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High Demand For Seats In New South Loop High School

Chicago’s long-awaited new high school for the burgeoning South Loop and Near South Side won’t open until next fall, but parents already are clamoring to secure a guaranteed spot for their children.

Parents came out in force to a hearing Tuesday night to beg Chicago Public Schools’ officials to include their neighborhoods in the school’s proposed attendance boundary.

The demand is putting CPS officials in an awkward position. Parents argue their children have no viable high school options because their assigned Near South Side schools — Phillips or Tilden high schools — are low-performing.

But those schools are already severely under-enrolled. Extending the boundary of the new school into their attendance territory will likely hurt them even more.

Only one mother directly brought up how the boundary extension will harm the existing schools. Audrey Johnson said her children have gotten a good education from Phillips, but she fears this move will isolate the school of mostly black and Latino students even more.

“It is alright for all those African-Americans to get together at Phillips?” she said. “How do you know the kids don’t want to experience other races. You all are not even giving them a chance. Don’t fail Phillips like that. Put money into Phillips.”

Similar discussions are likely to take place around a new high school planned for the West Loop. Already, the alderman there is demanding that a large stretch of his ward be guaranteed seats.

At both the new South Loop and West Loop high schools, the school district also risks guaranteeing seats for too many students. The new South Loop high school will move into a converted elementary school. It is slated to enroll 1,200 students.

If all students in the proposed attendance boundary enrolled, the school would be over capacity on Day One. But the school district is betting that some portion of those students will continue to go to selective enrollment, charter, or other school choice options.

Using that logic, Chicago Public Schools already altered its proposed attendance boundary for the South Loop school once to include a neighborhood further south — the Gap community in Bronzeville. That was the subject of Tuesday’s hearing. The Board of Education has yet to vote on any attendance boundary for the new high school.

Parents from the Gap neighborhood on Chicago's Near South Side want their section of the Bronzeville neighborhood to be included in the attendance boundary of a long-awaited new South Loop high school. (Sarah Karp/WBEZ)

The parents of the neighborhood added to the boundary came out Tuesday to thank the school district for responding to their demands.

They were joined by parents and teachers from two other Near South Side neighborhoods, Bridgeport and Canaryville. They also want their schools added to the attendance boundary so their children are assured a seat next fall.

“You made sure to get South Loop in there and I understand, that is where the money is,” said Joey Lynn Pinaglia, who grew up and is raising her children in Canaryville. “But you are leaving out a huge community, a huge chunk of people who have been waiting four generations for a high school.”

Pinaglia said she, her parents, and her grandparents all went to private schools or outside the neighborhood for high school. She now has a 12-year-old daughter who she fears will have to do the same.

Also at the hearing were several parents, students, and teachers from National Teachers Academy, the elementary school slated to close so it can be converted into the South Loop high school. They strongly oppose the move and have filed a lawsuit to try to prevent it. They are seeking an emergency conjunction that would prevent CPS from moving forward until the case is decided.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

This story was updated to include a more precise capacity number for the new South Loop high school  1,200 students.

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