About 30 people attended tonight's meeting with Dr. Smith, the principal of Richards High School. I'd say between five and 10 were parents. The rest were a mix of community residents, youth outreach workers and institutional reps from the Peace and Ed Coalition: San Miguel, Precious Blood Ministries, I think Instituto del Progreso Latino, Catholic Charities Street Intervention. A parent volunteer and the LSC community rep, Veronica Lopez, also came out.
The heaviest outside hitters present were 9th District Commander Eugene Roy and Phil Hampton, director of community relations for CPS. I didn't get the name of his assistant, who stayed for the entire meeting, but she expressed interest in attending future Peace and Education coalition meetings.
Dr. Smith committed to attending or sending a rep from Richards (her AP or dean) to future Peace and Education Coalition meetings, though she added it is difficult to send someone when her staff is small.
The meeting mixed pre-set questions with some time for dialogue between Smith and the audience. She was first asked to explain what Richards is doing about security. Like most schools, they have things in place on the inside: cameras, a short lunch period (23 minutes) to prevent fights/food fights, but the outside has been a harder struggle. Cmdr. Roy has increased police presence outside the school at dismissal, which she says has helped. The school keeps an eye on 50th and 51st, but it wasn't clear to me from what she said how far east or west they watch. I'm sure they don't cross Ashland; I doubt they go more than a block, but it wasn't clear.
Dr. Smith also talked about Richards' response to the shooting of a student about a month ago. I'm not sure exactly where it took place--I believe not on the grounds but nearby. She said she went to the hospital to talk with the young man and his mother directly, asked him what he wanted his classmates to know, and got on the PA the next day to let people know. A crisis team from CPS did visit the school.
Agency workers told her they would like to build continuing relationships with Richards to provide ongoing safe space where students could talk about their feelings about this and other violence they have experienced.
Later, when the community was asked to let Dr. Smith know what we are doing about security, a woman who lives in the school's beat said she is pressing to get a CPD camera installed outside the school.
Youth intervention workers present pointed out that the problem is not so much the immediate area around Richards, but north of the viaduct--the blocks between 47th and 49th. I realize east of Ashland is having a tougher time, but kids also cross a line at Marshfield, which they pointed out.
The gentleman I believe was from IPL (I could be wrong) seems to have been roped into helping organize a parent patrol to make safe passage in and out of Richards. Some parents present said they are dropping their children off in cars because it is unsafe to walk. Dr. Smith says they have had two CTA buses, one northbound, one south, come to the school at the end of the day for students only. Parents admitted convincing their kids to ride these buses is difficult, and some said they have heard reports of fights on those buses, too. I personally have tried to be around between 2:30 and 3:00 on Mondays and Fridays (the days my work schedule sometimes lets me), just to keep an eye out and call the police if necessary, but I can't always be here then.
Many next steps were floated, but I think the most important one was Dr. Smith's public commitment to attend meetings of the Peace and Education Coalition. Someone I know who has been connected to Richards for a long time said afterwards, "We've been pushing for a long time, and this is the first time she has moved. Let's see if she moves more."
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