Thursday, November 20, 2014

Does Chatham/Park Manor Want to Save St. Dorothy Parish

A group of alumni, church members and residents came out to the Whitney Young Library to say YES.

A group of alumni including Keith Tate, President of Chatham Avalon Park Community Council (CAPCC) who is an alumnus and member of the steering committee  to save St. Dorothy School chaired the meeting.  Residents and neighbors including Ms. Darlene Tribue, President of Park Manor Neighbors Community Council (PMNCC), a St. Dorothy alumna, came out to hear what is going on with St. Dorothy Elementary School as well as what the future is for the parish.

Several weeks ago, the Chicago Archdiocese announced that they were closing nine elementary schools around the city of Chicago as well as create a new school Augustus Tolton. Tolton  would be a new school created from the merger of St. Dorothy and St. Columbanus. The archdiocese reason for the merger was both schools have operating deficits as well as declining enrollment The new school would be housed in the former St. Columbanus school building and the future of the St. Dorothy building was in question.

The announcement came as a surprise to the students, parents and church members of both St. Dorothy and Columbanus. Per responses from parents they were informed via a flyer just before the official announcement and church members were notified just before the announcement via an announcement in church. The announcements just prior to the official announcement is the start of frustration for the parties affected.

Per St. Dorothy members, parents and alumni this decision was done under  a veil of secrecy and the reasons given for the merger are not true. They felt disrespected by the Archdiocese and the pastor of St. Dorothy, Father Bob Miller especially as the parish is planning to celebrate their 100th anniversary in 2016 and they were given assurances that the school was in no danger of being closed.

Per Keith Tate he and a committee were actively raising funds for capital improvements and other operational needs of the school.  He was assured that the fundraising would be viewed positively and assure that the school would not be up for consideration for closing.

Since the announcement, there have been meetings for parents of the school and anyone else who has attempted to attend  has been asked to leave the meetings. Request for financial information have gone unanswered with no reasons given. Overall, all attempts to gather any information to create a starting point to assist have been dwarfed.

During the meeting it was brought out that consultants were hired to assist the school but  when request for what they cost and what they actually did were made again no answers.

The following letter was sent to the archdiocese
Re: Request to Postpone Closure of St. Dorothy School
Founded 1917
Dear Reverend Archbishop-Designate Cupric:
We would like to extend a warm welcome to the windy city of Chicago. Cardinal George served the Archdiocese of Chicago with passion for many years and we wish him much favor as he leaves this office. We are a diverse group of interested parishioners and alumni of St. Dorothy Parish and school who are here to listen, dialog and participate in supporting and enhancing the Church and its missions.
Your transition to the city comes at a critical time in Chicago’s Southside community. Unanticipated and unexpected decisions are being/have been made resulting in the impending closure/merger, of the St. Dorothy School located on the south side of Chicago. Despite how characterized, a vacant school building is a closure and a painful loss to a community struggling to recover.
Throughout its nearly one hundred-year existence, the St. Dorothy School prepared students for excellence. Their accomplishments in many cases dwarf the accomplishments of others not tethered with financial and social impediments. St. Dorothy alumni include former and current executive directors, vice presidents, attorneys, executive managers, IT professions, doctors, political consultants, teachers and the like. This is a legacy we believe is worth saving and more importantly we believe with notice, information and welcomed participation the impending closure of the St. Dorothy School could have been avoided.
We were strongly cautioned that appeal of this decision would be of no effect, our efforts in vain, that there would be no redemption. We are however hopeful and faithful that this communication does have decidedly redemptive value. We seek your intervention, leadership and grace in preserving an institution that has been a haven and opportunity for survival. We also need leadership to remedy an ever-widening chasm of perspectives. At the very heart of our most immediate concern is preserving the nearly one hundred-year legacy of the St. Dorothy School, a Catholic institution of primary education founded in excellence and service to a deserving parish. Unfortunately the closure of this once revered flagship institution has been decided without a modicum of information, appropriate notice or reasonable opportunity to overcome the challenges to the viability of St. Dorothy.
The St. Dorothy community has a history of triumph when given proper notice and opportunity to engage in problem resolution. We do not believe we were given that opportunity. Our voices were not timely sought, heard or understood and as a result the St. Dorothy School did not have an advocate. We request that immediate remedial action is taken preventing closure pending an audience and a comprehensive review of the importance of the St. Dorothy School to the parish and the community. This community needs a path to self-reliance, not another vacant building, not another testament to hopelessness or track to the criminal justice system.
We are equally mystified by the total disenfranchisement of the parish community in the making of this monumental decision. We are also shocked and taken aback by the loss of foresight to make this issue a priority and a known crisis. The general information provided was that the parish would have up to three years to address the concerns of the school. It was not until September 2014 that the parishioners, parents, resource committee and representatives from the Archdiocese were brought together. The topic was the future of St. Dorothy School, however, at no point in this meeting was it communicated that closure was imminent. One month later it was announced that the school would close. After the decision, it was clear that the steps taken were perfunctory measures to make the process appear inclusive, but it was not.
We understand that reasonable minds may differ as to the most effective way to build a strong continued Catholic presence in the community. It is this difference that encourages us to bring our concerns forward. It is now time to rebuild, to reinvest in communities that have had many blessing but also have had many disadvantages. We encourage the Church to be bold in its mission by creating more opportunities for spiritual growth. We believe that this cannot be done with school closures; rather, it can be accomplished by expanding the Church’s presence through re-committing to these institutions of learning. “Give me a fish, I will eat for a day, teach me to fish and I will eat for a lifetime.” Anonymous
There is much information we have to share about our ideas for rebuilding our Church’s presence in the community. We thank you for your consideration and are hopeful for an audience with you. If you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Yours in Christ,
St. Dorothy Concerned Alumni and Community to Prevent Closure of a Historically African-American Institution
 As of the writing of this post, there has been no response from the archdiocese.

The steering committee and alumni are passionate about saving the school because they believe that once the  school closes the closing of the parish is imminent. They state examples of the former Mercy/Unity, Mendel, and other catholics school and properties on the southside that have been sold to developers or Chicago Public Schools

The group has more meetings planned to inform the community on their plans as well as there are meetings going on at St. Columbanus to discuss the vision of the new school Augustus Tolton.

Since the announcement what have been visibly absent is a unified community response from residents of Park Manor/Chatham or any of the numerous community based organizations. This leads to the question does the community want to save St. Dorothy?

Earlier this year, representatives from Concepts Charter attempted to sell the community that their  Clay Evans campus was going to be the savior for the children of Chatham. They even had one community organization, West Chesterfield Community Association issue a letter of support. When questioned about their ties to Turkish extremist they became hostile and called individuals "Racist" for asking questions. Subsequently, the campus was nixed and Concepts was raided by the FBI. But with all of that some were ready to give away some of our public schools to this group that has no track record of achievement and no african american teachers.

Secondly, the charter school network has made it clear that they are actively looking to make additional inroads into the community. They took advantage of the gift Gary Comer made to the Grand Crossing community and established Gary Comer High School. Also, the Alternative School Network in conjunction with Chicago Public Schools has been actively pursuing closed schools to place Alternative Schools or schools of last resort.

Lastly, while public schools in Chatham/Park Manor were saved from the last round of closures several were  included on preliminary list.

So where do we stand on education? What is the future of St. Dorothy?

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