Roseland community loses out on referendum for Carver Academy

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Sometimes a name is just a name, but sometimes a change in name can set the stage for a change in focus. That was the hope of the Developing Communities Project, which asked the Board of Elections today to have voters weigh in on changing the name of Carver Military Academy back to George Washington Carver High School.

Sometimes a name is just a name, but sometimes a change in name can set
the stage for a change in focus. That was the hope of the Developing
Communities Project, which asked the Board of Elections today to have
voters weigh in on changing the name of Carver Military Academy back to
George Washington Carver High School.

But the group failed to get the required 2,600 signatures to get the
referendum on the ballot in February 2010. The election board told the
group that it would have to wait until November 2010 or February 2011,
says John Paul Jones, the project’s community organizer.

Jones says the proposed name change is meant to provide an impetus for
downsizing the military program to a small school-within-a-school, and
to then create other small schools in the same building. If the school
had more vocational training programs, such as in green technology and
agriculture, Jones says it would be more attractive to local students.

As a military academy, Carver now has specific admissions requirements.
And the issue came to the forefront this fall, with some activists and
residents blaming the beating death of Fenger High student Derrion
Albert on the tensions created by sending students from the Altgeld
Gardens area to Fenger rather than Carver (which is near Derrion’s
home).

But not everyone thinks it’s a good idea to reopen a general high
school program inside Carver.  And even if a referendum eventually
passes, there’s no guarantee of such a change: Ultimately, that
decision would be up to the Board of Education.  

Ninth Ward Ald. Anthony Beale, for one, is against the change. He noted
that five years ago, before becoming a military academy, Carver was
wrought with violence and low performance.

Now, young men and women in full ROTC uniforms monitor the hallways,
and only 35 students were charged with a serious misconduct last school
year. Carver has become a “quiet school,” Beale says.

Still, the admissions criteria for Carver have been a point of
contention between Beale and CPS officials
. In October, Beale said
students should be able to simply sign the standard code of conduct for
military schools to be granted admission, while the current policy
calls for interviews, grades and attendance to factor into admission
decisions.

But Beale admits that the focus on the military is a barrier to some
students. When given a chance this fall, only six students expressed
interest in transferring from Fenger.

 “Because discipline is one of the things lacking in our schools today,
a lot of kids get turned off because they don’t want to wear the
uniform,” Beale says.

 For Jones and Developing Communities Project, the bottom line is that
CPS needs to come up with a better strategy for providing good high
school options for students in Roseland. He says this is an endeavor
that he and CPS have only recently begun thinking about.

 The name change, though, is important to Jones for another reason: It
will reinforce George Washington Carver’s legacy as an inspiration to
the black community.

 “Our greatest hope is to defy these racial [stereotypes] that have
always haunted us,” Jones says. “We wanted to use those legacies to
encourage and empower youth.”