The New New Thing at Mack : Manufacturing and Engineering

photo by Pamela Tapia

by Pamela Tapia

School board Gary Yee brought along Dan Swinney of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council to pitch a new program to the staff, parents and faculty at McClymonds Wednesday night. However, Yee didn’t stay long at the meeting.

The change in focus at Mack — from law and environmental justice to manufacturing and engineering — was unveiled at a series of meetings, first with principal Kevin Taylor and then with the school’s alumni association.

“We could’ve prevented jobs lost in companies,” said Swinney as he introduced the program created at Austin Polytechnical Academy in West Chicago to the 25 people at the meeting.

The Austin Polytechnical Academy opened in 2007. A New York Times story in April reported that the school is facing funding problems, a decline in enrollment, and was placed in academic probation for the 2010-2011 school year.

In the latest news, on Monday, 100 students walked out of classes at Austin Polytechnic Academy to protest the firing of 7 out of 30 teachers by the interim principal. Students and teachers complained of poor communications and lack of professional development in a piece by the Chicago News Cooperative.

In an attempt to show that manufacturing jobs could be saved in West Oakland, Swinney said that there were jobs that could be filled if the people with the “right talent” applied. According to Swinney, even during the recession there were 3 million jobs in manufacturing.

“Whenever they think of jobs. they think of McDonalds, Wal-Mart, or selling drugs, they don’t think of manufacturing,” said Swinney.

According to Swinney, McClymonds was chosen because of the similarity to West Chicago’s demographics, namely high unemployment, a rise in African American population, and poor funding of public education.

There was many comments from parents after hearing that it took $75,000-100,000 to start the program from scratch and it cost $250,000 a year to maintain the machinery and hire specialized teachers.

“We don’t want to be a district dumping ground,” said Carol Ferguson-Jones, Mack class of ’88 and parent of a student.

“I’m not really excited if you don’t focus on academics,” said Rowanda McGee, a social worker at McClymonds.

“This whole idea is stupid. We need to divert the funds for something that will benefit everybody, not just the people interested in manufacturing. Our class can’t even do algebra, how are they going to do calculus to run a machine?” said Bonita Tindle, a senior at Mack.

Despite some negative reaction from parents, staffband students, the McClymonds administration welcomed the new focus.

“ Kids need another alternative. They need to find a career path with a skill set,” said council member Nancy Nadel. “College is not for everybody. The district needs to support us,” said Sam McNeal, attendance administrator.

“We need a safety net, nothing happens overnight,” said Karen Todd, vice principal at Mack.

There is no word when the final decision will be made.

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