One of Chicago’s most sought-after public schools is another step closer to merging with another that has historically served students from public housing.
The local school council at Ogden International School voted unanimously Monday night to develop an official plan to merge with Jenner Academy of the Arts. It would be an unprecedented move, but it is still not a done deal.
Ogden is in the Gold Coast and just 18 percent of its students qualify for free lunch. Jenner is near where the Cabrini-Green public housing towers once stood and 88 percent of its students qualify for free lunch.
Everyone who spoke during public comment Monday night favored the move, including some of Ogden’s staff.
“I would ask this community to consider what the response would be if Jenner were a school that housed a cluster program for students with autism or down syndrome,” said special education teacher Kayci Pickett.
“Would people so blatantly reduce them to a couple of factors that make them different from our own children?”
Ogden is a neighborhood school with a specialized International Baccalaureate curriculum. Taneal Sanders, one of the IB coordinators, said she is frustrated that adults are not setting an example for their children.
“We say, ‘This is what’s going to help you become a global citizen when you get older,’ but then we, as adults, some of us are not modeling that,” Sanders said.
When it came time for the council to vote, a parent who got to the 6 p.m. meeting late, interrupted and said she had a right to speak.
“I have 100 people that are against this merger,” said Rasha Elganzouri Gad, a mother of two children at Ogden. She had a folder with the print out of a petition she said she posted online Sunday. As of Tuesday morning, it had 122 signatures.
The council, having already held public comment, asked her to sit down, but Gad refused. In the commotion, the council voted unanimously to continue exploring a merger with Jenner. The unanimous vote does not mean it will happen.
Ogden Principal Michael Beyer said he will continue to gather input from all parents. He added that anyone can join the existing exploratory committee at any time.
Beyer said he will meet with CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson and other CPS officials before presenting an official proposal to the Board of Education in October.
Ultimately, the Board will have the final say. Because the move would be considered a “school consolidation” under the law, CPS will have to make an official announcement by December 1 and hold three more public hearings before making a decision.
Gad said she thinks if the merger is approved, parents will leave Ogden.
“All the parents are going to say, I’ll go to a private school, I’ll go somewhere else,” she said.
That fact is not lost on Rebecca Wells, an Ogden parent who lives near Jenner and supports the merger.
“I think we’re going to lose some people, I don’t think it’s a big number,” Wells said after the meeting. “Especially when you look at our taxes. The tax bill that just came out, I’m paying $10,000 in taxes a year. I could move to Oak Park and pay $25,000. I don’t want to do that. We could also go to British school or Latin school and I’d have to pay another $25,000. I don’t want to do that. So if you look at the numbers, it makes sense to make this work.”
Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her @WBEZeducation.