CHICAGO — Jones College Prep is expanding, but neighborhood residents and their alderman say it's not enough.
One of the most prestigious of Chicago Public Schools' 10 selective-enrollment high schools, Jones was already getting a new building just down the block from its current home in the South Loop, to open in the fall.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced Tuesday Jones will also maintain its current building, at 606 S. State St., while adding the new facility.
That will enable the school to almost double in size, increasing enrollment from 900 to 1,700. Eventually, 300 of the spots will be set aside for local residents, but they will have to test in, too.
In making the announcement, Byrd-Bennett pointed out that 18,000 CPS students applied for the 3,000 available selective-enrollment slots citywide last year. Jones received 49 applications for every acceptance.
"It seems to me the demand is clear," she said. "Chicago Public Schools must do more to meet this demand."
But residents in the area, which has seen a period of growth, expressed dissappointment in the plan. Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) has been campaigning for the old Jones facility to be converted to "a quality, safe neighborhood high school.
"Census data shows what many residents have said, that more than 40 percent of the families with children are leaving this area when the children reach school age,” Fioretti said immediately after the announcement Tuesday afternoon. “Converting the current Jones building into a neighborhood school will help to keep more families in the city, which will benefit the economy of the entire city.”
But at a later media conference Tuesday evening at the Illinois College of Broadcasting, Fioretti said while he was happy to hear that Jones would not be torn down or sold to a developer, "I and others are disappointed that CPS has no plans to create a neighborhood school to serve this area, something we desperately need. This is unacceptable," he said.
"The South Loop is really losing out," said Jeanette Johnson, vice president of the Greater South Loop Association. "We're losing our favorite alderman [Fioretti] and now we're losing out on a public option for our schools."
Johnson, who has lived in the South Loop for 14 years, said she and her husband have already talked about moving to northwest Indiana, where Johnson grew up, due to the lack of quality public schools in the area.
"I would hate to leave the South Loop," she said."But when you get married and have kids, what are you supposed to do?"
Fioretti will also speak at Wednesday's Board of Education meeting.
Yet Emanuel insisted the needs of the greater city prevailed over the needs of the neighborhood. "More people will have the choice to stay in the city and send their kids to a high-quality school," he said. "We're going to put choice in our educational system. ... This is good for our city. It's good for our kids."
Byrd-Bennett announced the school will eventually set aside 300 spots for students who live in the neighborhood. Starting in the fall, it will add 75 local students a year in its separate College and Technical Education programs specializing in pre-law and pre-engineering. Those students too, however, will be selected on merit, with top area students getting first shot at the positions.
Emanuel said he was visiting Jones last fall to congratulate the boy's cross-country team on its state championship when he asked an elementary question: "Why are we tearing this building down?" His staff worked from that point with CPS to come up with a plan to renovate the old Jones building instead of abandoning it. It will be rehabbed over the summer and ready to form a two-building Jones campus in the fall.
"I think it’s great they are going to use the Jones building to expand success to one of the greatest schools in the city," said Dennis O'Neill, executive director of Connecting4Communities, a Near West Side neighborhood group. His group had been eyeing the old Jones building as a potential option for its proposed Central City High School, which would predominately serve residents in the Near West Side and West Loop neighborhoods.
While he said expanding Jones will be a "good reuse," O'Neill stressed that he hopes CPS and the mayor will work with Connecting4Communities to find a solution for the lack of neighborhood high schools on the Near West Side.
The 75-year-old Jones High School became a College Prep in 1998.
This year's selective-enrollment acceptance letters will be sent out Feb. 22.