By Brighid Bennett
I found Jamal sitting alone in the stairwell, staring blankly at the wall in front of him. In the morning, our principal told the students that our school was one of the four charter schools in the city recommended for closure. As I sat down next to Jamal, he muttered, "It's all a waste; I was supposed to graduate with my diploma next year but now I'm done with school." I told him that even if Amandla closed, we would find him a place for his senior year. He snapped his head around and looked right at me: "Where am I supposed to go? You know it's not safe for me -- or most of these other kids -- to go to schools just a few blocks away from here. You know nobody's making it to college from there." I responded by assuring him there's a chance we can convince the board to vote to keep us open. He rolled his eyes with a brief sigh, "I'm a Black kid from Englewood -- they don't care about me."
Jamal is not the only one who will lose out if Amandla closes; there are hundreds of students who will too. Amandla Charter School is an open enrollment school in the Englewood area of Chicago that serves more than 300 students; 98% of our students are Black, 96% are low-income, and 23% receive special education services. Amandla has provided a second home for all of these students and if you stepped inside our four walls you would see that. You would see our counselor working through lunch to help students process ongoing trauma and the AP Calculus teacher coming in early and staying late to mentor students. You would notice our security guard who always brings in snacks for those students he knows have not had a solid meal all weekend. For all of the staff members at Amandla, the sentiment is the same: we deeply care about our students.
The data bears down on why Amandla should stay open. According to the School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP) results that were released in October, our high school program outperformed the two closest district-run high schools. Amandla ties for 3rd of 11 on a ranked list of for non-selective high schools (both charter and district-run) within a 2-mile radius of our school. As Jamal pointed out, removing students and families' choice to attend Amandla leaves them with few quality options.
Amandla has made significant improvements each year. Between the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years, our school increased a full 1.0 on the SQRP ratings, which allots points to schools on a 5.0 scale. Amandla has a strategic plan to continue to increase its ratings, specifically through: new leadership, improved governance systems, re-organization as a unified 5-12 school, adoption of new CCSS-aligned curriculum, interim assessments, and targeted instructional focus. All of this coupled with the continued dedication and hard work of our loving and innovative staff is a recipe for success.
The Chicago Board of Education will vote to decide our future on Wednesday, November 18th, and all of our staff, students, and families are fighting to save Amandla. Join us by signing this petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/saveamandla, getting involved on social media with #saveamandla, or writing a letter to a board member (find their bios here: http://www.cpsboe.org/about/bios). To the CPS Board of Directors: Don't shut us down now -- give us a chance to show you what we are capable of when it comes to our school and our students. Give Jamal a chance to walk across the graduation stage with a diploma and head off to college.
Brighid Bennett is grades 5-8 special education teacher at Amandla Charter School and a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.