WBEZ Updates

Chicago Proposes First Round Of School Closings Since 2013

CPS Board of Education photo from Jan. 26, 2017. Andrew Gill/WBEZ

Sarah Karp

Chicago Public Schools hopes to address changing neighborhood dynamics through a list of school closures and changes it released on Friday.

The school system wants to shutter four South Side high schools in June. These high schools are all in Englewood, a low-income neighborhood that many residents have fled, leaving schools with too much space and too few students. CPS wants to replace those schools with a new $85 million high school to open fall 2019.

CPS also wants to move forward with controversial plans they say would improve education offerings in two of the city’s hottest neighborhoods, as well as result in creating schools that are integrated by class or race.

On the Near North side, near the site of the former Cabrini-Green public housing development, CPS wants to merge two elementary schools. Jenner, an under-utilized school that serves mostly poor black students, would be consolidated into Ogden school, which has a diverse, more middle-class student population.

CPS also wants to convert a Near South Side elementary school, National Teachers Academy, into a high school to address a long-standing demand for a neighborhood high school in the area. The school is based in one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in Chicago. CPS is also building a new building for the South Loop Elementary School nearby.

CPS released details of its plans Friday, complying with a state law that requires school action announcements by Dec. 1. CPS will hold a series of community meetings and hearings in January on the plans and the Board of Education could vote as early as February, according to CPS.

There were some smaller changes on CPS’ list, including doing away with a short-lived junior high program at Roosevelt High School in Albany Park on the North Side.  

But the major plans on the school action list have been discussed for months.

This summer, CPS announced the $85 million Englewood high to replace the four schools it wants to close. Those four schools — Robeson, Harper, Team Englewood, and Hope — all are severely under-enrolled, each with only about 100 students.

School district officials discussed the fate of Englewood’s schools with the area’s Community Action Council, a group of community members formed by CPS to come up with strategic plans for area schools. While the council is onboard, the Chicago Teachers Union and some parents are protesting it.  

CPS revealed on Friday that it wants to close the four high schools this June, despite the fact that the new high school won’t be ready until Fall 2019. Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said these schools simply have too few students to support a basic education.

“I have described [them] as inhumane and I firmly believe that,” Jackson said. “I think it is really hard to sit and watch students in a school where they are not getting the educational experience that they deserve.”

The plans that aim to create better integrated schools have generated considerable controversy, especially in the South Loop.

Some parents at the National Teachers Academy, which will be phased out and converted into a high school, strongly oppose the move. They note that NTA is a highly rated school that serves students who are mostly poor and black. They have convinced CPS to do a racial equity study. They say they are convinced the study will show the plan disadvantages NTA students.

Jackson said the school district will pay $85,000 to an outside group for the study. But she said she is confident it will show the school will advantage the low-income black students currently attending NTA because they will get a better high school option.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. You can follow her @WBEZeducation.