Central High School Would Serve Neighborhood and City, Residents Say

By Chloe Riley on January 15, 2013 7:23am 

 The former home of Jones College Prep in the South Loops is one potential site for the proposed Central High School, according to Dennis O'Neill of Connecting4Communities.
The former home of Jones College Prep in the South Loops is one potential site for the proposed Central High School, according to Dennis O'Neill of Connecting4Communities.
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Flickr/laschofield2001

UNIVERSITY VILLAGE — If Downtown, Near West Side and South Loop residents have their way, a new $90 million Central High School could serve residents that critics argue don't currently have a quality neighborhood school with strong academic standards and a diverse student body.

Over the past 20 years, population levels have shot up in the targeted areas. But Jeff Rosen, president of the Near West Side neighborhood group Connecting4Communities, said census data shows families with young children end up leaving the area by the time their children hit preschool age because of the lack of high quality neighborhood schools.

“And that’s something none of us should look at and feel good about,” Rosen told 30 community members gathered Sunday in University Village to hear details of a proposal to build a new high school serving the area.

Dennis O’Neill, executive director of Connecting4Communities, said plans are not set in stone, but he estimated the proposed school would carry a price tag of about $90 million and would have a capacity of somewhere between 1,300 and 1,800 students.

The old Jones College Prep building at 606 S. State St. or the Roosevelt Square on the Near West Side are both potential sites for the school, O’Neill said.

Central High School would draw students living in existing boundaries currently used by four CPS elementary schools.

The schools include Skinner Elementary School at 1260 W. Adams, South Loop Elementary at 1212 S. Plymouth Ct., Washington Irving Elementary at 749 S. Oakley Ave. and Smyth J. Elementary at 1059 W. 13th St.

O’Neill stressed the proposed high school would not be a charter school but would be a traditional CPS facility “where the teachers and staff are treated like normal CPS employees."

The group has been in conversations with district officials about the need for a new high school. CPS officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Ronald Whitmore, principal at Smyth J. Elementary, said he thinks the high school is very much needed in the area.

“I just think this is a perfect storm,” he said. “An opportunity to break bread around what quality education will be in Chicago.”

The proposed school would also be open to students who don’t live in the area but who currently attend magnet elementary schools there. That includes STEM Magnet Academy, Galileo Academy of Math and Science and Andrew Jackson Language Academy.

“What we have is a collection of incredibly strong city-wide magnet programs very close together,” Rosen said.

Currently, students who live in the area can attend Wendell Phillips Academy, 244 E. Pershing Rd., or Richard T. Crane Technical Preparatory, 2245 W. Jackson Blvd., for high school.

But O’Neill said the schools aren't very close to many residents they serve  and also are plagued by low test scores and a lack of diversity.

“The schools don’t have diverse student bodies. They [community members] want to see that diversity reflected in their high schools,” he said.

Meanwhile, Whitney Young at 211 S. Laflin St. and Jones College Prep at 606 S. State St. are selective enrollment schools that don’t guarantee admission for potential students in the area.

Not everyone at the meeting agreed with the proposed attendance borders.

Tamara Askew, who lives in nearby West Haven, said her neighborhood is consistently left out of new school proposals in the area.

“I’m tired of being taxed like I live in Lincoln Park, but I get nothing for it,” she said. “Resources always stop at the expressway and Jackson.”

Her seven-year-old-son attends Drummond Thomas Montessori School, but lives in the attendance area for Suder Montessori Magnet School at 2022 W. Washington Blvd.

Kali Plomin, who attended Sunday’s meeting, is a 43-year-old lawyer whose 7th grade daughter  attends Galileo Math and Science Academy.

Plomin said while her daughter will try to test into selective enrollment high schools, her only backup would be charter schools, which Plomin is “philosophically opposed to.”

She was excited by the proposal, which she said would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

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