Chatham residents to hold meeting on controversial alternative school


Will call the Cardinal if Father Atoyebi is a no show 


By Chinta Strausberg


Residents are anxiously awaiting a Saturday, October 15th Greater Chatham Alliance meeting where they’re hoping Father John Atoyebi will keep his promise and explain why he “secretly” and without their knowledge or consent placed an alternative school inside of the St Clotilde Elementary School which is causing a quiet storm in this middle-class South Side neighborhood.

There are still more questions than answers for residents of Chatham who are still doing a slow burn after Father Atoyebi, who heads both the St. Clotilde Parish and the Holy Angels Church, placed the Richard Milbourn alternative school, located in the 8400 block of South Calumet, inside of St. Cotilde without first meeting with them.

According to Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6th), the alternative school accepts students from the 6-12th grade, had moved into St. Clotilde Elementary School located on the 8400 block of South Calumet. Sawyer said he was not contacted by the administrators of the school prior to its placement inside St. Clotilde School.

Echoing similar sentiments was Roosevelt Vonil, president of the Greater Chatham Alliance, who said the meeting will begin this Saturday at 11 a.m., 8000 S. Michigan Avenue, and that anyone can attend, but he emphasized the importance of Father Atoyebi’s presence at that meeting.

“My concern is that this move was done in a secretive manner, and I’m concerned about the type of students enrolled in this school,” Vonil said. He said since no one including Ald. Sawyer knew about the move, “it was apparently a secretive move and we are already experiencing crime and break-ins right now. We are concerned about the quality or kind of students who could contribute to that factor.

“Everybody I talk to say the same thing about Father Atoyebi that he does what he wants to do and do so with an arrogant approach. Whether that is true or not, that is the perception people have of Father John. He needs to be at this meeting Saturday to explain why didn’t he touch base with the people who are affected by this move before he placed this alternative school in our community,” said Vonil.

“It was Father John who did this which is why he needs to be present at this meeting,” he said. “He would not have done this in Hyde Park, in Bridgeport or Beverly; so why would he try to make a move on us like this without first talking to us? Chatham is no community to do this to. We are high vote getters. We actively care about our community.

Making his position crystal clear, Vonil said, “No one is against a second chance for a child. We know anybody can make a mistake, but it’s like bringing somebody to my house and leaving him there when you know this is a trouble child. We are upset about it and rightfully so,” Vonil stated.

“Bringing this alternative school to Chatham just potentially compounds this problem,” he said. ‘We have had problems with crime like garages broken in; homes broken into one time while the occupants were inside. We’ve had people steal our air-conditioners, and one police officer’s home has been broke into twice within a three-year period. One of those times, a neighbor held the person until the police came.

“I hope Father John has the courage to come to this meeting” said Vonil. “I think they realize this is a problem and may not have known the amount of opposition to this alternative school. This is a thesis done without the research by CPS because someone should have at least checked with the alderman. Father John and the Archdiocese should have run this first by the community.”

Vonil asked, “Why didn’t they put a charter school there? If Father John doesn’t come to this meeting, then I will be in contact with the Archdiocese and the bishop,” said Vonil. “The word is among the people involved that this behavior he has towards the community” is unacceptable and “he will not get away with that in our community.”

“We’re trying to see if this school is being properly monitored, but we also want to make sure this never happens again. If it presents a problem to our community, then there will be a showdown,” he vowed.

“Doing this to our community is like the Archdiocese throwing mud into the face of the parents who have and are sending their children to St. Clotilde. This was the Archdiocese’ membership base in Chatham. They are betraying the same people who were part of the whole (Catholic) system,” Vonil said.

Ald. Sawyer emphasized that no one is trying to throw these students out of school but added, “The people who made the decision should have been forthright about what they did.”

After receiving more than 50 calls from irate constituents, Ald. Sawyer said he met with Father Atoyebi and when asked why he didn’t run this idea by him and/or the community, said, “he told me that based on his prior experiences with the Chatham community, he didn’t think they would support his plan.”

What ever the rationale was for moving the alternative school into St. Clotilde, Sawyer said, “It was done with total disrespect to the community. We should have been given a heads up even if I could not have stopped it.”

Since the move, Sawyer said the Chicago Public School (CPS) “was very apologetic” and had explained that the move was an emergency. Sawyer said CPS officials would be at Saturday’s meeting.

“I am satisfied that it is progressing,” said Sawyer. “These kids are trying to make their lives better. I don’t want to blame the school or the students but rather the people who made this decision.”

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) was shocked to learn that an alternative school that accepts expelled students had been secretly moved into a Catholic school located in his ward without his knowledge, but he confirmed the administrators responsible for this move have agreed to attend the upcoming community meeting to give a “full accounting” of their actions.

The controversial move from Holy Angels to the St. Clotilde Elementary School, located in the 8400 block of South Calumet, will lead the topic of discussion at the Saturday, October 15th meeting of the Greater Chatham Alliance headed by Roosevelt Vonil who is the president.

Having just arrived home from a vacation around September 2nd, a stunned Sawyer said his chief of staff gave him the startling news. “I was only gone for four-days and nobody told us anything,” said Sawyer. “The neighbors caught wind of the move and called his office. “We didn’t have a clue” about the placement of these students into St. Clotilde, said Sawyer.

After contacting a few community representatives in the ward, Sawyer said they too didn’t know that the Richard Milbourn School, which is an alternative safe educational facility that according to Sawyer accepts students from the 6-12th grade, had moved into St. Clotilde Elementary School located on the 8400 block of South Calumet.

“An Alternative Safe school is a school for students who have been expelled from their primary school, but have not yet exhausted their options for returning to their home school,” wrote Sawyer in a letter to his constituents and the media.

“This facility keeps these students anywhere between 45 days and 2 years.  The school had approximately 35 students when I met with the Administrator on September 12th, and can potentially house as many as 115 students.  The middle school aged students are bused to and from the school and the high school age students must take public transportation to get to the school.  Security officials are posted at the bus stops in the morning.”

Having learned that Father John Atoyebi had approved the move, Sawyer reached out to the priest and toured the facility.  While Sawyer has no fault with the school, he said, “I am not at all faulting the school or the administrators of the school. The problem is the way in which it was done. It was done with total disrespect to the community.

“Even if you felt this was what you were going to do, at least give us a heads up so that we can inform the community what was coming even if I could not have stopped it. I would at least like to know what’s coming into our community so the neighbors would have an opportunity to know as well,” said the alderman.

Sawyer said Father Atoyebi feared the community would not be supportive of him having once been “nasty” to him when he once tried to put a school at St. Clotilde. “I told Father Atoyebi he would have been wise to let me know.” Sawyer just wanted to know who was running the school and its program.

The alternative school was moved from Holy Angels to St. Clotilde headed by Father Atoyebi who heads two parishes.

Father Atoyebi did not return this writer’s calls.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: