Chicago Public Schools is proposing to close four Englewood high schools to make way for a new $75 million high school in a community where the schools have been losing students for years.
Under the proposal announced Friday, the new school would replace four under-enrolled schools: Robeson, Hope, TEAM Englewood and Harper, which would all close in 2019. The new school would be built at the current location of Robeson High School.
“This new state-of-the-art investment will be the most significant investment CPS has made in Englewood in decades,” said CPS CEO Forrest Claypool.
CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said the district chose Englewood because the area has not seen a new high school since the 1970s. She said more details about the school, such as its attendance boundaries, have not been determined and will be discussed at hearings throughout the summer. The first hearing will be held at Parker Elementary at 5:30 p.m. on July 19.
In the past, school closings have meant layoffs, and the Chicago Teachers Union quickly denounced the proposed closings in a statement released shortly after CPS unveiled its plan.
“Consolidating four high schools into one building is the mayor doubling down on a disastrous and irresponsible gentrification scheme that has already removed scores of African-American residents from the city,” the statement read. “Many of the teachers and staff at these schools are African-American women who have already experienced consolidations and closures at schools such as South Shore and Calumet high schools.”
CPS officials on Friday said they received recent community input on the new high school, but the plan had been in the works for some time. Last summer, WBEZ obtained an internal memo that listed dozens of construction projects, including a new Englewood high school. Money for the projects would come from a new $45 million property tax used for school construction.
WBEZ reported in December the district was planning to shutter several high schools in Englewood to pave the way for a new high school. District officials had repeatedly declined to confirm or discuss a new Englewood high school and many of the other projects listed in the memo.
The four high schools in Englewood targeted for closure collectively have just 614 students enrolled. That’s compared to more than 2,500 students at the schools in 2010.
CPS says there’s no shortage of high school students in the area, but 90 percent of students don’t attend their neighborhood high school. Forty percent travel at least four miles to school.
Two charter schools in the area, Noble-Johnson and Urban Prep, enroll more than 1,000 students total from across the city.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward) said he supports the new school, but does not agree with closing all of the schools now on the chopping block. He said school closing should be a “last resort.”
“I think Harper should stay open,” Sawyer said, adding he’s concerned about Harper students having to travel more than two miles to school. “I think that if we’re going to serve all the children in Englewood, I think that Harper should stay open for those that want to stay… in that area.”
Harper High was the subject of a two-part 2013 documentary from This American Life and WBEZ. The Peabody Award-winning episodes chronicled how the school struggled with staggering neighborhood gun violence. In the 2011 to 2012 school year, 27 current or former Harper students were shot, and eight of them died. First lady Michelle Obama visited the school shortly after the documentary aired.
Deonte Tanner, who as a Harper student chose to stay inside the house to avoid neighborhood gun violence, said schools like Robeson, Hope and Harper are sold short because they’re seen as low-performing schools.
“Regardless of what people on the outside say about those schools, you really don’t understand the type of impact it leaves on students’ lives until you sit in those seats,” said Tanner, who recently graduated from Marquette University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations. “Harper is where my main start is at. If it wasn’t for that school, would I have pushed myself to go to college and graduate and apply for a masters? I’m all for state-of-the-art schools and new buildings, but it’s kind of hurtful.”