Chicago school officials approve new schools, but no neighborhood options

Parents upset with plan to expand selective admissions at downtown high school, still want neighborhood option

January 23, 2013

(Sara Silverman/WBEZ)
New Chicago Board of Education member Carlos Azcoitia listens to Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett give a presentation at Wednesday's meeting.

Parents who live near downtown Chicago are not happy with Mayor Rahm Emanuel this week.

Emanuel announced a plan Tuesday to add 200 more spots a year to Jones College Prep -- one of Chicago Public Schools’ coveted selective enrollment schools.

The expansion will be accomplished by keeping the old Jones College Prep building open. Parents like John Jacoby, who lives near the school, have fought to have Jones as a neighborhood option.

“Unfortunately, his plan to add selective seats does nothing to help the families in the community that paid the tax dollars that built Jones and have paid the tax dollars that will now repair Jones,” Jacoby said.

Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd) is also upset with the plan. Parents throughout Fioretti’s ward, which includes the South Loop, West Loop, Chinatown and University Village, are pushing for a neighborhood high school, where children are guaranteed a seat and don’t have to test in.

“Help keep thousands of middle class families here in this city,” Fioretti said. “Don’t push them out to the suburbs or elsewhere.”  

Last year, CPS officials announced a plan to serve the community by reserving 75 spots in each grade for neighborhood students. But CPS Officer of Access and Enrollment Kathryn Ellis said Tuesday that neighborhood students still must qualify with grades and test scores.

CPS Board President David Vitale said the district met countless times with alderman and the community to come up with solutions. He also noted the overwhelming demand for selective enrollment schools—last year CPS received 18,000 applications for 3,000 spots citywide.

The Board of Education also approved two new charter schools—an arts-based elementary called The Orange School and a 6th through 12th grade high school called Foundations College Prep. Both have conditional approval and will need to have a location approved. Board member Andrea Zopp said she felt strongly that new schools locate in neighborhoods where there is a need.

In addition to the two charters, the Board approved four new alternative schools, mostly to serve high school dropouts. Those schools are: Banner School, Pathways in Education, Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy and Edison Learning’s Magic Johnson Academy.

At Wednesday’s meeting, CPS officials again reiterated that they plan to close schools and need to do so to spend money more efficiently, but did not provide a detailed description of the long term cost savings. A second round of community meetings regarding school closings start Monday.