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Old Town School of Folk Music Takes Over Operations of South-Loop Music School

Old Town is taking over the business operations from Columbia College Chicago, which acquired Sherwood in 2007.

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Columbia College Senior Associate Provost Suzanne Blum Malley and Old Town School of Folk Music CEO Jim Newcomb.

Dave Zibell

Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, based on the city’s North Side, is taking over Sherwood Community Music School in the South Loop.

In the arrangement, scheduled to be effective Sept. 1, Old Town will take over business operations of Sherwood, which is currently managed by Columbia College.

“With Sherwood, particularly, you have a more than 120-year history of music instruction, a bunch of really talented teachers and committed students,” said Old Town CEO Jim Newcomb.

The acquisition is part of Old Town’s effort to expand into neighborhoods, especially on Chicago’s South Side, Newcomb said. Old Town’s Lincoln Square headquarters makes it inconvenient for students from across the city to attend, he said.

“It’s not going to be a giant money maker for the Old Town School,” Newcomb said. “For us, it’s serving more people.”

Currently, there are about 47 active teachers at Sherwood, according to Suzanne Blum Malley, senior associate provost at Columbia College. She said, with Old Town taking over, those teachers will be invited to apply for teaching positions to remain at the South Loop school. Blum Malley said she talked with the Sherwood teaching community Monday.

Blum Malley confirmed that one full-time and two part-time administrative positions at Sherwood are being eliminated. Asked if those individuals would have a chance at positions at Old Town, CEO Newcomb said he doesn’t know yet. “There are always opportunities at Old Town, we’re always hiring, it seems like,” he responded.

Teachers at Old Town unionized last January, but Newcomb said contract talks have not started. Newcomb said he has met with the new union’s leadership and said they are supportive of the acquisition.

William Hall Sherwood founded the Sherwood Music School in 1895, and offered professional degrees to students. Sherwood was a virtuoso piano player, and according to Old Town’s Newcomb, he would travel around Chicago with a piano in the back of his truck and teach young people how to play. Eventually, Sherwood phased out the professional degrees to focus on more community-based instruction. Columbia College acquired the school in 2007.

According to a release, Old Town School will host a series of public open house events tentatively scheduled to begin Tuesday, Sept. 10, at the Sherwood campus to introduce the Old Town School community members to the South Loop neighborhood. Newcomb said he expects to be up and running at the newly acquired location by Sept. 16, and the school’s Wiggleworms early childhood classes are slated to begin in October.

Correction: This story has been updated to give the correct spelling of Wiggleworms.

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