Quality of Life

Years ago, not long before the advent of local school councils here in Chicago, when my kids were of grammar school age, I faced a huge problem getting them enrolled into a quality public school. Goudy, the public grammar school serving our educational district, was considered at the time to be among the worst grammar schools in the entire Chicago public school system. Thankfully, since then, under the leadership of Patrick Durkin, that school has made a dramatic turnaround for the better. But back then, that particular school was not an option. Also, around the same time, William Bennet, who was the secretary of education, called the Chicago public school system the worst in the nation. I would have been sending my kids to the worst of the worst schools. Clearly, I needed a better alternative. I was fortunate in that I was able to get my kids into a better public school that offered a curriculim based upon the Paideia philosophy of education.

Some years later, the school became overcrowded and it was no longer possible to accept out of district children there. My kids had to leave. Once again, I was faced with the problem of finding a quality public school for my kids.

There was an ugly, racially charged backdrop to this dilemma which resulted in an attempt to move a program within that school (which my oldest child was a member of) to another more accommodating and less crowded school. A few years earlier, as a consequence of the local school council initiative, the original principal, Albert Orenstein, who had been the principal at that school for many years and was highly regarded by the parents who knew him and the faculty he administered, was replaced by a black female. Had Mr. Orenstein not been a causasian male, I'm sure the LSC board would not have terminated his tenure. I saw what went on there firsthand and it was blatant reverse discrimination. Mr. Orenstein was kicked out like an old shoe just a few years short of his retirement. I felt so sorry for the man.

I still remember very distinctly the president of the local school council, Sherry Bailey, also a black female, gloating loudly as we were leaving a contentious LSC meeting, saying "it's payback time, baby." I'll never forget that. The LSC board was clearly more interested in fostering their own agenda then they were in the education of the students at Kilmer Elementary.

I also remember Johnetta James, the newly appointed principal, saying that the parents were more concerned about maintaining their property values than they were in the quality of their children's education, in one particularly heated meeting about the effects of the elimination of this program. Ms. James was of the opinion, as was the board that hired her, that every child should be mainstreamed through the same curriculum and having a separate program within the school was elitist.

She used the term "property values" disdainfully, in a attempt to portray those who wanted to retain the program as being shallow and selfish. I had to laugh. Granted, property values have a correlation with the quality of one's education, but that was not under discussion. It was easier for her to reach for a superficial, condescending catch phrase than to deal with the issue in a more meaningful and constructive way. Our board is playing the same game with me.

I've lived at Park Tower for many years and with any luck, I hope to live here for many more years to come. I have no interest in selling my unit or buying another one. Property values are of concern to me only as far as my real estate taxes are affected, and of course I'd like to keep them as low as possible. The quality of my life, however, is of supreme importance to me and I don't want to see it, or that of anyone else who lives here, denigrated by a board that cares little about the welfare of the residents of this building, which also happens to be the principal reason for the existence of this site.