There are, undoubtedly, a large number of Chicagoans completely disengaged from the ward remap process. The Winnemac Park Neighbors are not among them. Depending on which map City Council ultimately adopts, many or all of the residents in the area bounded by Damen, Western, Lawrence and Foster, will shift from the 47th Ward to the 40th, a change that attendees at the most recent WPN meeting found dispiriting.
Approximately 30 people gathered at Dolce Casa, 4947 N. Damen Ave., on Jan. 10 for an update from WPN chairman and 47th Ward Council delegate Eric Rojas. “The negotiations are being done without us,” he said. Acknowledging that the shift “looks like a done deal,” Rojas encouraged members to email the office of 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar to express their dismay at the move. “Otherwise it’s just going to happen.”
At issue: Concerns that many of the positive steps taken in the past months by Ald. Pawar, including the Grow47 schools initiative, will be erased. Among the questions raised, what happens to TIF dollars Pawar intended to direct toward Chappell Elementary and Amundsen High School if they’re no longer in his ward? (Unclear.) In the spirit of transparency and citizen participation, does 40th Ward Ald. Pat O’Connor have a ward council? (No.)
“I’m totally opposed” to the move, said Deanna Arvin, a resident of the Winnemac Park area since 1978. “Living next door to the 40th Ward, I haven’t seen any investment. It’s all about the status quo. I got pumped up about Pawar. We got new, fresh blood giving us an education on how City Hall is working; we never had that before.”
Kirsten Brandt, an 11-year resident, was taking a wait-and-see approach. “I still have to educate myself,” she said of the various ward remap proposals. “We were all excited about Pawar, the openness. He really brings it to the people.”
“I want to stay [in the 47th Ward],” added Bob Farster. While admitting that Pawar’s transition into office had a few bumpy patches, Farster liked where the new alderman was heading, particularly with the establishment of the ward council, comprising representatives of various neighborhood groups. “I think he’s attempting to do the right thing,” said Farster. “I worked and fought to get Ald. Pawar elected. I want to see where he takes things.” With the remaps still being debated, Farster was “keeping my fingers crossed” that the Winnemac area would remain in the 47th Ward.
And if not? “I just hope we can light a fire under O’Connor,” said Arvin.
Update from Amundsen Principal
Carlos Munoz, principal at Amundsen High School, was invited to speak to the Winnemac group. After polling attendees and discovering that none of the parents were currently sending or planning on sending their student to Amundsen, Munoz stated, “No disrespect, that’s why I’m here. You need to look at your neighborhood school.” Amundsen’s enrollment of 1,500 students is split between 60 percent neighborhood students and 40 percent drawn from across Chicago. “I would desire 101 percent neighborhood,” he said.
With top neighborhood students commonly “siphoned off” by Northside College Prep, Lane Tech and Walter Payton high schools, Munoz made a pitch for Amundsen’s International Baccalaureate program, which accepts approximately 120 students each year. He also touted the school’s small learning communities, including the Global Village program, which emphasizes cultural and environmental awareness, and the Jorndt Urban Mentorship Program, which is raising funds to send 15 students to Nicaragua to build a school. Would he be open to a “Friends of…” group, similar to community groups that rally around elementaries? “We don’t have a ‘Friends of,’ not that we don’t need friends,” answered Munoz. “We’re not going to turn you away. We’re open to suggestions.”