ENGLEWOOD — In the next five years, the founder of Urban Prep Academy for Young Men High School said he would like to open new campuses in as many as six cities, including New Orleans, Atlanta, Newark, N.J., Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis and Gary, Ind.
"We are in talks with those cities about possibly opening a campus there. It has always been my vision to make Urban Prep Academies a national organization," said Tim King, founder and CEO of the Chicago-based nonprofit. "The success we have had in Chicago with our three campuses has been phenomenal. Now it's time to take it to another level."
Founded in 2006, Urban Prep has campuses in Englewood, Bronzeville and North Lawndale. And since its first graduating class in 2010, the all-boys charter school has achieved a 100 percent college acceptance rate. For the last four years, all seniors at the schools have been accepted into four-year colleges or universities, despite many of them entering high school reading below grade level, King said.
"From day one, we work with students to prepare them for college. And too often that means getting them caught up to speed in reading and writing," King added. "But in the end, our efforts pay off because they continue their education in college."
The majority of students attending Urban Prep are black, and many come from single-parent households, King said. Many live in crime-plagued communities, such as West Pullman, Roseland, Auburn Gresham, Englewood, Grand Crossing and North Lawndale.
"None of that stops them from coming to school to learn. When we first get them, they are boys, but by the time they graduate they do so as young men," said King.
The thought of Urban Prep spreading to other urban cities is encouraging, said City Treasurer Stephanie Neely, an Urban Prep board member.
"I am delighted at the prospect of having Urban Prep's winning formula expanded and put to work for even more young people. There is no downside to investing in our youth," Neely said. "What these young people and educators have been able to accomplish is a testament to hard work, optimism and resilience."
One barrier to opening more campuses outside Illinois is money, King said.
"We would love to have our own school buildings, but costs often prohibit that," he said. "Each year we hit the streets and do fundraising to the tune of $2 million to help support our efforts of educating black boys. We spend $10,000 per student, and $7,500 comes from [Chicago Public Schools]."
David Miranda, a spokesman for CPS, said both charter and noncharter high schools "roughly receive the same funding amount but [it's] delivered in different ways."
Urban Prep's last fundraiser was June 29, when Bill Cosby performed at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place on behalf of the school.
"The concert was sold out, and Bill Cosby is still Bill Cosby. He is funny, smart and generous," King said. "His concert raised $50,000 for us, which we will use for operational expenses."
The collaboration between Cosby and Urban Prep came unexpectedly, according to King.
"I was sitting in my office one day when the phone rang, and I answered it, and Mr. Cosby was on the other end. At first I thought someone was playing a joke on me, but after 15 minutes of talking to him, I realized it was not a joke," recalled King. "He said he had heard good things about Urban Prep and wanted to know what could he do to help keep things going."
King said the organization plans on releasing data next year to show how its first graduating class performed in college.
"Everybody wants to know what happened to our 2010 class and how many went on to graduate from college," he said. "Well, in less than a year we will know."