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Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

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Photo by Brandis Friedman

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Walter H. Dyett High School

In the spirit of its namesake, Walter H. Dyett High School has been a fixture on the South Side of Chicago for generations. It touted national models for programs in restorative justice, mentoring and empowerment, and a career and college prep classes. It also cultivated an urban garden on its campus in collaboration with the Chicago Botanic Garden. This is all despite decades of disinvestment, a leaking roof, a dysfunctional heating system, and no air conditioning.

 

In 2000, Dyett Middle School became Dyett High School to accommodate those neighborhoods children who would be forced out of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. High School, a little more than a mile away, as it was being turned into a selective admissions college preparatory school. In order to accommodate the influx of students , however, the capital investment of $5.6m into Dyett paled in comparison to the $19.5, invested into King between 2000 - 2002.

 

In 2011, Dyett was the recipient of ESPN's "RISE UP” Award, and winning a $4 million gym renovation. However, later that year CPS announced that the school would begin a 3-year phase-out process to close.

 

In response, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett was formed as a partnership between community organizers, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), representatives from the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and Teachers for Social Justice (TSJ), professors from University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), and organizational partners such as the Du Sable Museum of African American History and the Chicago Botanic Gardens. They led years of protests, hunger strikes, sit-ins, and federal lawsuits. While the Coalition’s Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School proposal was not ultimately accepted, their efforts catalyzed the reopening of Dyett as an open-enrollment, arts-focused neighborhood high school and community innovation lab. 

 

The Coalition was frustrated that CPS would not work with them despite their willingness to work with CPS. Organizer Jitu Brown said the Coalition always attempted to operate through bureaucratic channels before moving forward with protest tactics, “This was not something we did to get attention. We never start off in the street, we always start off at the table.” Pick up a copy of Eve Ewing's Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side to learn more.

Researched by Jenna Pollack

Photo by Overpass Light Brigade

TIMELINE

Click here to see complete PDF

Quick Facts

Address: 555 E 51st St, Chicago, IL 60615

School Type: Neighborhood

Neighborhood: Washington Park

Architect: David Haid

Design by Zhilin Cai

A peek into the organizing, activism, and protesting:

"Throughout Dyett's entire history, the Board has demonstrated a disregard for the student body. The Board has deprived our school of resources, and undermined numerous promising attempts by our community to improve the school. What was the Board's response when, as late as 2008, we had the largest increase in students going to college in all of Chicago Public Schools? What about in 2009, when we had the largest decrease in student arrests and suspensions? Disregard and disinvestment. We are now a school with only 1 counselor, no assistant principal and have lost serval quality teachers. We are a school where one of our most successful programs, AVID, which prepared many of us for college was cut last year. As explained below, this may very well have been because the Board knew long ago that it would close Dyett, and felt that investing resources in us was unwise. This history of neglect impacts us – it sends us the message that the Board does not think we are worthy of investment and that our education is somehow less important than the education of our peers around the city."

A 2012 filing of a federal civil rights

complaint with the U.S. Department of Education from 36 students filed alleging that closing Dyett reflected racially discriminatory practices

Click here to see the new campus of the Walter H. Dyett High School for the Arts after $14m in renovations

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Chicago Tribune Archive

About Walter Henri Dyett

Walter Henri Dyett (1901-1969) was an American violinist and music educator. As musical director at DuSable High School in Chicago, he trained many students who went on to become well-known musicians. After studying pre-medical courses at University of California at Berkeley, Dyett moved to Chicago where he was an active member of Chicago's South Side community and citywide institutions. He became known as Captain Dyett because of his service as Bandmaster of the Eighth Regiment Infantry Band of the Illinois National Guard. He was elected to the board of directors of the Black musicians local AFM 208 in 1947, and served on the board of directors of the merged American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Local 10-208 in which he advocated for musicians in contracts with major music organizations like the Lyric Opera, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Grant Park and Ravinia orchestras.

Dyett was known for his discerning ear and strict discipline, for encouraging his students to study and play music of all types instead of concentrating on just one, for his ability to motivate his students to succeed, for being a mentor to graduated students, for insisting that all students take private instruction (which he often arranged at low cost), for the thoroughness of his program, and above all for a vast store of musical knowledge which he could draw on to provide new advice to students whenever he met them.

Sources: Academic, Chicago Reader, Chicago Reporter, Chicago Sun Times, Chicago Tribune, Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education at UIC, Empathy Educates, ESPN, Eve Ewing, New York Times, South Side Weekly, University of Chicago. and WTTW