Creating a safe school environment in which Chicago Public Schools students can excel academically is the key to ensuring the future both for the young people and the city as a whole, Mayor Richard M. Daley said today.
“That’s a big job but it’s one we have to complete,” Daley said at the dedication of the new Calmeca Academy of Fine Arts and Dual Language, a pre-K through 8th grade school which opened this week at 3456 W. 38th St. in the City’s Brighton Park neighborhood.
“Providing such an environment is the shared responsibility of every Chicagoan,” he said.
At the dedication, the Mayor and CPS officials also addressed a key CPS initiative this year – student safety.
“As school opens this week, we continue to enhance student safety, dedicate more resources to school communities, engage young people in positive programs that give them an alternative to the streets and strengthen our support for neighborhoods most in need,” Daley said.
“And we have undertaken a broader initiative to create ‘cultures of calm’ in our schools. Transforming school culture is a huge undertaking, but it must be done to break the pattern of violence that is present in too many of our neighborhoods,” he said.
CPS, in coordination with the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Transit Authority, has been engaged in designating Safe Passage corridors for 23 high schools in various parts of the city.
As a result of a comprehensive Request for Proposals process earlier this year, CPS is partnering with community- and faith-based organizations to hire personnel who will serve as “community watchers.”
Twenty-eight organizations responded and 22 were found qualified, among them: Alliance for Community Peace, Leave No Veteran Behind, Prologue, Black Star Project, Ark of St. Sabine, Claretian Associations, Nehemiah Community Associates, Habilitative Systems, Inner City Youth and Hope Organizations.
The community watchers are not law enforcement personnel, but will serve as an adult presence and provide additional sets of eyes and ears on the within a one mile radius of the 23 selected high schools, CPS officials said.
“We committed to getting the community involved, and this is another way to include residents, parents, faith and community organizations to be a part of the anti-violence solution,” said CPS Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman.
The program is being funded by federal stimulus funds and is part of the District’s overall anti-violence strategy announced last year. About $40 million has been dedicated to support the program.
Daley said the Police Department continues to rely on intelligence gathering to anticipate criminal hot spots and conflict areas, and develop innovative ways to keep the City’s young people safe. These include:
- Real time information sharing from the between CPD and CPS.
- Regular meetings between principals and CPD command staff to build partnerships and exchange information on community and school violence issues.
- Surveillance cameras, funded by JP Morgan Chase earlier in the year, for priority schools.
- Beginning this month, Operation Safe City will expand to a third night of the week. This is the program supported by federal economic stimulus money that helps us fund overtime for officers during hours of high violence.
- In addition, a portion of Recovery Act money will continue to fund Operation Safe Student which funds the deployment of overtime officers at school dismissal times.
“I always tell our city’s young people how important it is to take responsibility for their own lives and well-being by staying away from violence. They’re risking their lives if they don’t. But I also want to tell them that they’re not alone,” Daley said.
“Through programs such as these three, we’re taking steps to better protect our children,” he said.
The new Calmeca Academy is one of five new schools being opened for the 2010-11 school year under the Mayor’s Modern Schools Across Chicago (MSAC) program. It is one of 11 new schools that have opened under MSAC in the last two years.
The school will specialize in language and fine arts studies.
“If we are to build a stronger Chicago and if every student is to be able to achieve success in life, we must continue to improve each and every school in Chicago,” the Mayor said.
“And we must pay special attention to improving our neighborhood elementary and high schools, as we are here with this beautiful facility that opened Tuesday,” he said.
Students at Calmeca will have access to various World Language options, including about 400 kindergarten through 4th graders who will receive instruction in Mandarin Chinese this year. About 100 pre-k and kindergarten students will be taught Spanish and English as part of the school’s dual language program.
In addition to Calmeca, other MSAC schools opening this year include Mariano Azuela Elementary School in West Lawn, Solorio Academy High School in Gage Park, Federico Garcia Lorca Elementary School in Avondale and West Ridge Elementary School.
Calmeca, constructed under the auspices of the city’s Public Building Commission, is a three-story, 105,000-square foot facility. In its three stories, Calmeca contains six pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms, 24 standard academic classrooms, two multipurpose rooms and a gymnasium.
It also features labs or classrooms for computers, science, music and art; kitchen and dining facilities; library/media and resource center. It boasts a state-of-the-art computer network, central air conditioning and is fully accessible to people with disabilities.
Its outdoor amenities include a nature walk and garden, playlot, a combination green and reflective roof to combat the urban heat island effect and play space with tricycle path. It has the sustainable design criteria needed to achieve LEED “Silver” certification.
“When you open a new school, you give students and staff a new start in a state-of-the art environment. We’re proud and excited that a new generation of Chicago’s young people has begun learning here this week,” Daley said.