Many members of the Pilsen community were outraged this weekend when, without warning, CPS demolished the fieldhouse at Whitter Elementary. The fieldhouse, nicknamed “La Casita,” had served as a community organizing and recreation center, as well as a computer lab. Construction crews accompanied by police arrived in the middle of an Aztec dance class on Friday night, told the dancers to leave and removed all equipment. On Saturday morning, bulldozers finished the job while 50 activists, parents, and teachers watched. 10 protestors were arrested.
There are some members of the community who feel that the fieldhouse was a dilapidated hazard, and ready for demolition. CPS determined back in May that La Casita was in imminent danger of collapse, and plans to replace the building with basketball courts, a soccer field and a new playground. But the building was also a symbol. In 2010, when CPS first tried to demolish the La Casita, protestors held a 43-day sit-in to save the structure so that it could be turned into a library. As WBEZ’s Linda Lutton points out, this brought to light the fact that 164 CPS schools didn’t have libraries.
While Whittier’s sit-in attracted book donations from all across the country, remodeling plans fell to the wayside, and parents say that the school still does not have a library. It’s likely that many of those 164 schools, if they haven’t been closed, also still don’t have libraries. CPS will say the money just isn’t there, perhaps pointing the finger at the pension crisis.
Last week, the Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky published an interview with a principal of a Chicago Public School, talking candidly about how she’s managing her school’s resources with the new budget cuts. Recently, CPS awarded a 3-year, no-bid $20 million contract to the Supes Academy, a principal training program that used to employ Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennet. Of her experience in the program, the principal interviewed in the Reader had this to say:
“I went to that training for four days—for six to eight hours each day,” says Jackie. “I became less intelligent after I went through that. I had three days with a guy who was breezing through a PowerPoint and telling us how he did it when he was principal. If you asked a question, he’d tell you another war story. What a waste of money. Imagine all the teachers we could hire with that $20 million.”