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Founder of Arts-Based Charter School Eyes Rogers Park, Despite Resistance

By Benjamin Woodard | January 30, 2013 1:53pm
 Ari Frede is eyeing Rogers Park to open his charter, Orange School, following approval from the Chicago Board of Education this month.
Ari Frede is eyeing Rogers Park to open his charter, Orange School, following approval from the Chicago Board of Education this month.
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Gail Stern

ROGERS PARK — The founder of an arts-based charter school is considering bringing his concept to Rogers Park after the Chicago Board of Education approved the school's proposal to open in the neighborhood. 

Ari Frede has been planning the Orange School over the past eight years, making it the subject of his doctoral project at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The school would incorporate music, visual arts, dance and theater into its core academic curriculum, and students would also be able to choose the types of classes that best fit their interests, he explained.

While advocating heavily with neighborhood organizations to win support to bring a third charter into the community, Frede acknowledged the plan is not set in stone.

"Rogers Park is not for sure," he said, after Loyola University and the local alderman's office submitted letters of support for the Orange School.

Frede said he plans for the school to accommodate about 200 students in kindergarten through second grade during its first year. Eventually, the school would hold 500 students through eighth grade.

But local residents aren't too keen on another charter school in their neighborhood. 

"I'm not a big fan of charter schools, not in the way Illinois and Chicago has done them," said Amy Truelove, who was part of the Boone Elementary School Local School Council for seven years. "I think the Orange School [has] some good ideas and are good people — and have their hearts in the right place."

She said any new charter would pull students from neighborhood schools, like when UNO charter opened in 2012 on the former St. Scholastica Academy campus.

"It's going to hurt the neighborhood community," she said.

Frede says Rogers Park, home to the Glenwood Ave Arts District, is ripe for an arts-focused school.

"I thought that Rogers Park was incredibly fertile ground for this," he said. "We want to hire local artists to join the faculty."

Frede said he's also considering other Chicago communities — such as Uptown, Albany Park, Bronzeville, Austin and Englewood — to open the charter by 2014.

Orange School was one of two charter applicants to be deferred for additional review until the January board of education meeting, where they were both approved.

Frede said he sees the challenge of opening a charter as Chicago Public Schools continues to mull how many neighborhood schools to close this year.

"Anytime you start a new school — or add a school without taking one away — you are setting up a competition for enrollment," he said. "To some extent, as soon as they passed charter school regulation, that’s one of the uncomfortable consequences."

Frede attended a heated Monday night public meeting in Uptown regarding the closures, in which district officials had trouble getting through a prepared presentation as community members shouted them down.

Dozens of parents and teachers from Gale Elementary, a school CPS has deemed underutilized, wore yellow shirts in solidarity and protest at the meeting.

Josh Hartwell, chairman of the school's LSC, said he'd rather see arts curriculum incorporated into neighborhood schools.

Frede agrees.

"People are really upset about a number of issues in CPS," he said, "and charter schools are one of them."

But Frede said parents and teachers have been complaining for years about a lack of quality arts education, that Orange could help.

"If you don't try to solve the problems by doing things differently, you'll keep doing things the same," he said. "And a lot of us don't want things to be the same anymore."