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Magic Johnson Alternative H.S. Not a Good Idea Near Day Care, Alderman Says

By Wendell Hutson | September 3, 2013 6:49am
 Magic Johnson's proposed alternative high school at 7035 S. Stony Island Ave. does not have the support of Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), whose ward includes the site.
Magic Johnson's proposed alternative high school at 7035 S. Stony Island Ave. does not have the support of Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), whose ward includes the site.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson, Getty Images/Harry How

SOUTH SHORE — NBA Hall of Famer Earvin "Magic" Johnson wants to open an alternative high school on Stony Island Avenue, but Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said he needs to look for another spot that's not so close to a day care.

Magic Johnson Bridgescape, which operates alternative high schools nationally, has proposed opening a Chicago school on a vacant lot at 7035 S. Stony Island Ave., which is across the street from the Children's Developmental Institute.

Hairston doesn't oppose having the school in her ward, but she thinks the students or young adults who attend the school wouldn't fit well there.

"Typically students attending alternative high schools are older than your traditional high school and they may have experienced some problems that led to them not finishing school, which is not a bad thing," she said. "I just don't think putting a school with teenagers and young adults who may have experienced some difficulties and who might still be struggling with issues is a good fit near a day care."

She also wondered if they'll fit in with the other businesses there. The intersection of 71st Street and Stony Island Avenue has a Church's Chicken, a Bank of America branch and Parkway Apartments, a low-income housing development. A Dollar Tree store is under construction at 7158 S. Stony Island Ave.

"There are other businesses that I don't think would mix well with high school students," she said.

Johnson brought a Starbucks to the neighborhood in 2004 with the help of $225,000 in tax increment financing — and Hairston's support. He later sold the store and more than 100 others he owned back to Starbucks.

Hairston said she is looking for other sites in her ward for the school.

Carol Washington, a spokeswoman for the Chicago office of the Bridgescape Academies, did not return calls seeking comment.

But the school's website said the schools respond to the "dropout crisis by creating a flexible, innovative and collaborative environment that empowers students to develop individual graduation plans, receive a high school diploma and realize their potential."

"We offer students a bridge to success by offering a flexible way to earn a high school diploma," Johnson says on a video on the site. "We also help students become successful after graduation by supporting every aspect of a student's life.

He gives a message to potential students, too: "Remember, I believe in you."

The site said it has 17 academies in six states with an enrollment of 1,675 students.

David Miranda, a spokesman for Chicago Public Schools, said the academy is part of the school district's new Alternative Learning Opportunity Program, which provides options for out-of-school and off-track students seeking to re-engage and graduate.

In light of Hairston's opposition, Miranda said "CPS is currently working with Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy to explore viable site alternatives for its campus," Miranda said. "Bridgescape was approved to open two sites this school year, serving 150 students at each site."

Wherever the school ends up, Miranda stressed there is a need for more alternative high schools in the city. A CPS analysis estimated there are 56,000 school-age youths who have dropped out or are not on track to graduate, but the district has less than 6,000 seats available in programs to accommodate them.

"Many of these students are in need of an alternative educational option that is specifically designed to provide the academic, social-emotional and behavioral supports necessary to help them successfully re-engage in school," Miranda said. "We have been our growing our options schools and programs to ensure we meet the needs of this student population."

Hairston said she supports expanding alternative education "as long as schools are placed in locations that are conducive to the neighborhood."