Alternative High School on Howard Still in the Works, Just Not Anytime Soon

By Benjamin Woodard on March 12, 2014 7:56am 

 Ombudsman Chicago applied for a permit to open a school at 2017 W. Howard St.
Ombudsman Chicago applied for a permit to open a school at 2017 W. Howard St.
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DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard

ROGERS PARK — Ombudsman Chicago, an operator of alternative high schools, said it applied "in error" to open a school on Howard Street, sparking an early revolt from the alderman and some community members.

But officials with the company said it still planned to open in a vacant building at 2017 W. Howard St.

Just not quite yet.

"That was not supposed to occur that way. ... It was done in error," said Sue Fila, regional vice president of operations for Ombudsman Educational Services, which operates two other alternative high schools that work with Chicago Public Schools students. "We're in the process of working with Ald. Joe Moore’s office."

In May, the Chicago Board of Education voted to allow Ombudsman to open additional campuses to serve as many as 1,200 students — tuition free — as part of a CPS effort to target struggling students and dropouts.

The errant application, Fila said, was inadvertently submitted along with another application to open a school on the Southwest Side, at 6057 S. Western Ave., that had been vetted by the community there.

She said the plan for the Howard Street school is still in the works, and she was not ready to "discuss the program" with the community.

Fila said she apologized to Moore (49th) Tuesday and was "feeling bad" about the mistake after a notice inviting public comments about the plan went out to nearby property owners.

Moore said he had first heard of Ombudsman's plans months ago and told company officials to work through his community process, which includes public meetings.

The mistakes aside, Moore said he took issue with the school opening on Howard Street.

"I expressed concern about the location, as it is on a commercial street," Moore said in an email Tuesday.

He said he recommended alternate locations in the neighborhood.

Surprised residents who got the notice of the plan were also concerned the proposed alternative school would increase crime in the area.

"We just don’t want that now; It’s bad timing," said Bernard Garbo, a CAPS beat facilitator for the area.

Garbo said he worried the school, which could bring students from different parts of the city, would lead to violent gang confrontations — and in turn hamper a growing business economy along a depressed stretch of Howard.

"This would basically take us back to square one," Garbo said.

Adrian Moran, 44, said he had lived for the past 10 years in a condo across the alley from where the school would open if approved.

"I think that it would be terrible for the community," he said. "It's been a huge effort to get drug and gang activity ... quieted down and not visible and not a dominant presence in this neighborhood."

He said "dropout and troubled teens" from an alternative high school would "bring back exactly what we've fought so hard to move away from here."

"It's just pathetic that the best the City of Chicago could offer us is a dumping ground of failed students," he said.

But Fila said the school would be a "part of the solution, not part of the problem."

"This is about helping kids, getting kids off the street, getting kids involved in positive activity," she said. "That’s how we feel we can be a positive addition to that community."

She said Ombudsman, which runs 27 schools statewide, would rescind its application for a special use permit at the board meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. March 21 at City Hall.

When the company decides to move forward with its application, she said, it'll strive to involve the community and alderman in its plans.

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