One school digs in to stay alive

"Not going to be steak," Boykin said, "but there will be chicken."

This was the strategy. Letters, petitions, emails, calls, signs, food.

At a previous meeting on school closings, only three Jenner parents had shown up to make the case to school officials, while another school had rallied busloads.

Jenner would have to play harder and smarter this time.

The save-our-school drama is unfolding in schools all over Chicago right now, and in many ways, Jenner is like the rest.

Its scores are low. Its rooms are not full. Its students are poor. Parents, teachers and students are scared.

But in some ways, Jenner is unique.

Stand just outside its orange brick walls and look around. To the south, the Chicago skyline looms so close you can almost count the high-rise windows. Just west and north stand new town houses, apartments and condos. Many of the new residents are single professionals and childless couples too young to have witnessed the vast, teeming housing project that once claimed this prime property.

Then step inside Jenner.

Time shifts.

The vanished community of Cabrini-Green lives on.

When the old Jenner School closed and this new building opened a dozen years ago, the fantasy was of a mixed-income utopia. There were 29 classrooms. Rooms for art and music. A math lab, a science lab, a gym.

Students of all kinds — there was space for more than 1,000 — would come from the happy, diverse community that would rise on the old Cabrini land.

It would be nothing like the old Jenner, made briefly famous in 1992 when one of its students, 7-year-old Dantrell Davis, was killed by a sniper's bullet as he walked to school with his mother.

As of Friday, Jenner's enrollment was 329. Almost a third of the students are classified as homeless. All but two are black; those two are Hispanic.

Some Jenner students come from the few remaining Cabrini row houses, others from the new developments where some former Cabrini residents have qualified to live.

Yolanda Dampier's kids are among the ones who come far to get here, back to the neighborhood that still feels like home.

Dampier rides a bus and a train every weekday morning to bring her kids back to where she went to school. It's a better education, in a safer part of town, than what she can find near her new place on the South Side.

"You close restaurants," she said. "But a school? Why should they kick these kids out to put somebody else in?"

In Cabrini's heyday, nearby schools were also packed with Cabrini kids. One is now a Catholic school. One is a magnet school. Another is a charter. They have new names.