That’s Right Nate

Thoughts from a right thinker.

Chicago Student Killing & Turnaround Schools

with 8 comments

Arne Duncan and Mayor Daley designed many of the policies responsible for increased violence at Fenger High School

[First, I’d like to let my regular readers know that this will be a very different type of post from me. This is a serious issue that any real reporter should have been able to unravel in about 5 minutes.  Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of journalism in many places in Chicago.  I felt compelled to write about it and I can’t see how to make this pithy or humorous.   Somethings do need to be serious I guess.  It’s taken me 880+ posts to get to a serious story and I really hope it is at least 10 times that many before I get to another one.]

Last week a 16 year old high school student named Derrion Alberts was brutally killed during a violent battle between rival students from Fenger High School.   Nothing can possibly absolve his attackers from their responsibility in this tragic death.   However, there are explanations for what happened and how a public became a war zone that I think deserve a second look.

Fenger High School is located on Chicago’s Far South Side at 116th and Michigan.  The neighborhood has been a pretty tough neighborhood for a long time, but it was in the early 1980s when a lot of area’s jobs went away never to return.   At one time Fenger had been a pretty solid school.  It had outstanding shop programs that were designed to help students make their way into the work force, but of c0urse those classes eventually got phased out in favor of a 100% college preparatory curriculum.  This one size fits all education has been a mainstay of high school in Chicago since the 1990s.

Located at 131st and Doty, Carver High School was a neighbor and rival of Fenger.   The children of Altgeld Gardens Housing Project went to Carver High while the children of a neighborhood nicknamed “The Ville” went to Fenger.   Five years ago, as part of Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 program, Carver High School became Carver Military Academy and the students from Carver High School were displaced to Fenger.   Immediately, trouble began between the kids from Altgeld and the kids from “The Ville”.   This unfortunately has become an all too common problem with education reform as practiced by Mayor Daley and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  In one of the most gang ridden cities in the United States, the constant closing of schools has frequently forced kids to cross into different gang territories to go to high school.   The result has been a skyrocketing youth homicide rate.

Fenger High School was a powder keg, but the one thing that seemed to keep the situation under control was a dedicated faculty.    One by  one the schools around Fenger were replaced by charter schools.  Calumet became a campus of Perspectives charter school and Englewood became the Urban Prep charter school and a small school with admission by lottery.  Fenger sadly received all the students that the other schools wouldn’t take.   Then the inevitable happened.   Because of poor test scores, the Chicago Public Schools announced that they would make Fenger a turnaround school for the 2009 school year.

There is an excellent writeup of the hearings by Kristine Mayle at The community came out to argue against doing so, but the board went ahead with their plans.  If you aren’t familiar with the term turnaround school-it is being pushed by President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan nationwide.  In a turnaround school, the faculty and principal of a school are removed and replaced by new teachers.   Sometimes, the schools close for a year and a lot of money is spent of rehabbing the school.  Unfortunately, by doing this, the CPS got rid of almost everybody in Fenger High School who knew the students and new the neighborhood.  The result was a dramatic increase in gang related violence both inside and outside the school.

On the day of the shooting, shots were reportedly fired at Fenger High School and a call was made to the police, but apparently nothing was done to deal with the trouble bubbling just below the surface of a normal Thursday at the high school.  Would a more experienced faculty and administration who were familiar with the students and the neighborhood have been able to act to stop the violence from escalating?  It’s impossible to say.   However, it is schools just like Fenger nationwide that are targeted for these kind of changes as part of education reform.  Parents, faculty, and community leaders warned of escalating violence that could happen, but they were ignored.   A 16 year old honor student was killed.   Sadly, he was not the first victim of school reform and he probably will not be the last.


8 Responses

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  1. Great post, sad story. I was just thinking today of how school has changed — my first child entered school in the mid 80’s, and my youngest is now in 7th grade – I have seen the primary education structure go to hell with my own two eyes. Since NCLB was implemented, schools had to abandon art, music, culture, and even trade training programs (shop, etc) in favor of Teaching to the Test. Without test scores the already-struggling schools lose funding — so, for weeks out of every semester, every semblance of the traditional learning activities I associated with school are set aside so everyone can be drilled on the upcoming test. At the beginning of each school year, the parents are asked to donate basic supplies – kleenex, hand sanitizer, you name it. Schools that can’t even afford to provide kids with something to wipe their noses on and something to clean up after, do not have the luxury of taking chances with those test scores.

    Every student in every school, being herded in the same direction so that they can deliver the best possible result on a completely arbitrary set of goals, what could be wrong with that? Re-structuring the districts such as you described is like academic gerrymandering, everything is geared towards an end result of everyone everywhere being forced to compete on one universal standard. Human factors are overlooked out of desperate necessity; had the community prevailed, it would have severely impacted their funding, so the community really had no voice in the matter of their own children.

    My heart goes out to Derrion Alberts’s family and friends, and indeed to everyone involved in the decisions that led to this tragedy. We can’t really vilify the school board’s decision, their hands were tied by No Child Left Behind.


    October 1, 2009 at 10:29 pm

  2. Nate, are you gonna write about the choice of the 2016 Olympics so I can scream about Rio totally beating your Chicago butt? Yay, Rio! I hope to see you all in Brazil in 2016. You can come earlier, of course. We’ll also host the World Cup in 2014.


    October 3, 2009 at 8:29 am

  3. Thank you Dot – There’s actually more to this story that I can’t print because I can’t substantiate.

    Lola – I posted on it and intend to have further coverage.


    October 4, 2009 at 10:52 am

  4. Lack of community seems to be the common denominator, even though the concept is a complicated sum of decades of events –
    Teachers who knew the students,and a sense of possibilities from the neighborhood are gone,
    Basic skills education that could provide interactive growth, would help student incremental development, and early entry into earning opportunities were abandoned

    But what Next

    January 19, 2010 at 7:37 pm

  5. They just announced another 20 school closings today. I hope it doesn’t mean burying more students next year.


    January 19, 2010 at 7:50 pm

  6. First off I want to say that it is good to post serious stories every now and then because it keeps things in perspective. The world isnt all rainbows and puppy dogs, its a cruel and violent place. I for one have seen the video of this crime that was captured on someones cell phone. It is truly violent and heinous, and left me out right disgusted. Not only at the violence that was potrayed by children of their age, but also by the lack of responsibility bestowed on people to preserve a life. The first and only voice you here coming to the aid of this child is that of a girl, whom im assuming is holding the phone, with the voice of a man in the background who does nothing to stop this from happening. If you watch this video you will see many people involved in this so called “battle”, but also you will see many people standing idly by doing nothing. It is horrendous to think that children of this age are capable of such violence, but we have been dealing with troubled youth in this country longer than most care to remember. One thing I will say is you can not put this blame on the school system, they did what they thought was right for the community and the kids. We didnt blame gang violence or territory disputes on the schools before why start now. What ever happened to taking responsibility for your actions, those kids knew very well what could happen if you hit someone hard enough with a 2×4. They knew it and the video shows it because as this child tries to regain his footing after being struck by the board and falling to the ground another kid hits him causing him to crash face first into the cement. Then while not moving on the ground a third kid kicks him in the head. Now continuing to watch this video in disbelief the camera pans around, and another kid hits him 2 more times with a board while he is down. It is at this time, a full minute into the video that someone tries to intervene and actually help the downed student. All im really trying to say is you cant place this blame anywhere else but on the four kids responsible, this was not caused by the “turnaround school” procedures, but by the violence these children are subjected to. My prayers go out to Derrion Alberts’ family and friends and I strongly hope that justice is served.


    February 27, 2010 at 7:38 am

  7. Thanks for a great post, but I must respectfully disagree. When the school board was deciding to make students cross gang lines, they were told by the community that it would lead to violence. When the board removed all the adults from Fenger, they were told that you were getting rid of positive relationships in the lives of kids without very many and that this could lead to an explosion in violence. The board decided that it knew best both times. The violence at Fenger has not eased. There are security guards roaming the halls and beating the heck out of kids, but the violence between students continues. One student last week had to go to the hospital after getting stapled in the head. The media has stopped covering the story, but the violence goes on.


    February 27, 2010 at 9:02 am

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