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Charter Principal: Demand for School is 'Big' in McKinley Park

By Casey Cora | May 29, 2013 3:28pm
 Charter operator ramped up student and teacher recruitment efforts.
Concept Charter Principal
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MCKINLEY PARK — Renovations are under way at one of the city’s newest charter schools and leaders say applications are pouring in from the neighborhood.

“It looks like there’s a big demand,” said newly installed principal Cafer Cengiz.

Concept Schools has started a construction project that will convert a factory at 2245 W. Pershing Road into the Horizon Science Charter School Academy McKinley before school starts Sept. 3.

They'll create 18 classrooms, four science and computer labs, a library and school cafeteria, in addition to administrative offices within the 69,000-square-foot building.

The company hired Cengiz  — a veteran of the Concept system with stints as a teacher and principal at its Midwest charter schools — and erected a mobile office at the McKinley Park site, where interviews are under way for the 80-some teachers to be hired.

On June 7, Concept will offer a free bus trip from McKinley Park to the Chicago Math and Science Academy, a charter school it operates in Rogers Park, for those interested in seeing the Concept system — which prioritizes math, science and technology — at work.

Cengiz said the school has received 143 applications after launching a direct mailing campaign in the neighborhood last week. 

The academy would enroll 432 K-8 students when it opens its doors in September; it plans to add grades 9-12 over the next four years. All told, the school's capacity would be roughly 725 students.

Applications are available at conceptchicago.org. The online application deadline is June 26. If necessary, a lottery for open seats will be conducted on June 28.

Concept’s plans to gut the factory and create a school was met with protest from neighbors and activists who said the plan was sprung on them at the last minute, and a hastily planned meeting called by Ald. George Cardenas (12th) earlier this month drew impassioned pleas from the community to prohibit charters from opening while dozens of the city's public schools were set to close.

The company's bid to open a pair of new schools, one in Bowmanville and the other in McKinley Park, was denied by the CPS Board of Education in September. The group won an appeal in March from the Illinois State Charter School Commission to open the facilities.

Also of concern has been Concept's alleged ties to the teachings of Turkish Muslim scholar Fethulla Gulen. Although the company says some of its founders may have been inspired by Gulen, the company said it has no remaining financial, religious or other ties to the "Gulen Movement."

Cengiz said he hopes the McKinley Park facility will be a "showcase school" for the Des Plaines-based Concept Schools company, and he'll bring several faculty members with him from the Michigan Math and Science Academy.

"We want to grow in Chicago," he said.