German Village Gazette

Village notebook

New generation of activitists affecting change on South Side

Tuesday March 5, 2013 9:14 AM

It never hurts your neighborhood when a group of activist residents gets mentioned in the mayor's State of the City speech.

That's just what happened two weeks ago when Mayor Michael Coleman focused a VERY heavily education-oriented address on our own Southside STAY (Standing Together to Advance Youth on the Southside) group.

"They are an inspiring grassroots organization dedicated to improving the schools, the business climate and the overall quality of life for children and families on the South Side. ... Southside Stay has decided to control its own destiny," the mayor said.

"Rather than parents moving to another community once their children reach school age, their message is to stay," he said.

"Stay, because they believe parental engagement in schools can make a difference. Stay because they are committed to creating a safer neighborhood. Stay right here on the South Side where kids can learn, grow and prosper.

"This is a noble effort that can be a model for neighborhoods around our entire community."

Southside STAY has a lot of people's attention.

It has been less than a year since I watched the idea spark at a Long-Range Planning Committee meeting. You may remember, Long-Range Planning is the group that created Village Connections, an aging-in-place approach that has applied for its own 501c3 non-profit designation.

Members decided last winter that now that they had tackled the aged end of the spectrum, maybe they should turn their attention to younger people.

And it was really almost the same idea.

Village Connections will help residents stay in the homes they've maintained and loved for several decades instead of having to move to assisted living, away from friends and their expected way of life.

What committee members saw was that young families also often make that decision in The Village -- moving to the suburbs when their children reach school age.

In a flash, a group of first three, then six and now several dozen young families from German and Merion villages and Schumacher Place formed Southside STAY.

First, they surveyed young professionals and learned that 70 percent of respondents planned to move out of the neighborhood to escape poor-performing schools and safety concerns for their kids.

In just nine months, STAY members formed committees, created a logo and a Facebook page, networked with similar-minded groups in Clintonville and Chicago, and began meetings with Columbus City Schools officials including Superintendent Gene Harris, and all members of the board of education.

Last week, they hosted Harris, who asked them, "Where have you been during my 12 years here?"

The mayor. The superintendent. This group is a movement. What do they want?

* At least some seats reserved for neighborhood children at the all-lottery Stewart School AFTER the school moves back to its original location on Schiller Park.

This would include Stewart School in our South High School feeder pattern (all schools feeding into South 7-12, our neighborhood middle and high school).

* Excellently rated elementary schools with guaranteed admission starting in pre-kindergarten.

* A separate middle school in the South High School feeder pattern.

* A 95 percent graduation rate at South High.

As they work toward making Stewart School a neighborhood school, they are also working directly with Stewart Principal Ebone Johnson, to understand how they can support excellent classrooms.

And it doesn't end with Stewart School!

They have reached out to leaders at all schools in the South High School Feeder Pattern (six elementary schools and South High 7-12) to initiate long-term relationships with the goal of supporting and improving every school on the South Side.

Already, they are helping to provide input regarding the new academic focus of South High School and the whole feeder pattern.

They are seeking partnerships with realtors, business owners and others who want to partner to help the South Side thrive.

They are the latest generation of urban pioneers and active community participants who have defined the work of the German Village Society since 1960.

I'm tremendously proud to have seen their idea take off, and I can't wait to see what they can accomplish.

Find Southside STAY on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ SouthsideSTAY

To join their email list, send a message to: southsidestay@gmail.com.

German Village Society Director Shiloh Todorov submitted the Village notebook column.

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