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Chicago to Reopen Dyett High School as Arts-Focused School, Innovation Lab

In the midst of a nearly two-week-long hunger strike by activists to keep Dyett High School on Chicago's South Side open as a neighborhood school, the district announced plans on Thursday to reopen Dyett next fall as an arts-focused school with an innovation lab.

The announcement came after advocates, who have been pushing to keep the school from shuttering, took the stage at a school board budget hearing on Wednesday night, forcing security to usher Mayor Rahm Emanuel out of the meeting. 

Those who had been staging the hunger strike had asked the Chicago school district to reopen the school in the Bronzeville neighborhood as a green technology school. It was not immediately clear whether the district's announcement would appease them.

Chicago Tribune reporter Juan Perez Jr. captured the scene at a CPS press conference announcing the coming changes to Dyett. 

The hunger-strikers have received support from outside of Chicago, including from Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Members of the group calling themselves the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, traveled to Washington on Wednesday to ask U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to urge Mayor Rahm Emanuel to respond to the community's requests. (Duncan is a former head of the Chicago public schools.)

The district said in its announcement that the arts school concept for Dyett had been recommended by the Bronzeville Community Action Council. The technology-focused component of the school, which should be operational by the 2016-17 school year, is in line with the district's plan to better equip students with 21st-century skills.

At capacity, the school will serve 550 students, and preference will be given to neighborhood residents, according to the district. 

"Our objective was to make the decision that best meets our children's needs, and this plan creates the opportunity for a unique, world-class high school on the south side," Forrest Claypool, the school district's CEO, said in the announcement.

"Working with community partners, we arrived at a solution that meets multiple needs: creating an open-enrollment neighborhood high school, producing an enrollment stream that can weather population changes, filling the critical demand for an arts high school on the south side and working with education leaders to create a technology hub."

The  innovation lab will be overseen by the Illinois Institute of Technology and will help principals and teachers integrate technology into the curriculum. The Chicago district said it would work with members of the Bronzeville action council and others in the community to select a new school principal. 

The arts school was one of three concepts submitted to the district during an open school-design call.

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