CHICAGO LAWN —An alternative high school contracted by Chicago Public Schools is looking to open a South Side campus not far from West Englewood by year-end, and is considering a vacant, two-story building in Chicago Lawn.
Ombudsman Chicago Principal Chaun Johnson said the school is considering a site at 3214 W. 63rd St., which is managed by Park Management Co.
"Nothing is final yet, but that site looks good so far," he said, adding that the schools will be free and open to Chicago residents who have completed eighth grade.
The alternative high school will focus on kids who have dropped out or are significantly behind, and also offer special education programs. Adding schools that will provide alternative ways for students to graduate is part of CPS's longterm plan, said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO of CPS.
Ombudsman Chicago's North Side campus opened in September at 7500 N. Harlem Ave., where 70 students are currently enrolled. West Side campus locations are also being scouted in Lawndale and Garfield Park, said Johnson, who grew up in Austin.
In May, the Chicago School Board approved Ombudsman to open three campuses to serve no more than 1,200 students. In total, nine campuses for alternative high schools were approved this year by the school district.
"We will not give up on any student. Doubling the number of quality options and alternative pathways to nontraditional learning environments allows us to help our hardest to reach children and provide them a chance to succeed,” Byrd-Bennett said, in a statement.
The purpose of the so-called "option schools" is to "provide off-track and out-of-school youth with quality educational opportunities," CPS spokeswoman Molly Poppe said. And unlike traditional public high schools "these high schools offer a personalized, safe and high-quality programming for students who have become disengaged from the school system."
The 2012-13 graduation rate for CPS was 65.4 percent, according to CPS data, which estimates that 56,000 youths are either out-of-school or significantly off-track for graduation.
"The majority of out-of-school youth are more than 17 years old and far from graduation and in need of a different educational option," Poppe said. "The district has seen steady and incremental improvement over the last decade in the five year dropout rate from 50.1 percent a decade ago to 35.3 percent in 2012."
Unlike traditional high schools where students are in classes for at least six hours, Ombudsman Chicago students, ages 14-21, attend classes for four hours a day. Classes run from 7:30-11:30 a.m. or from noon to 4 p.m.
But much like Magic Johnson Bridgescape, Ombudsman Chicago could run into oppostion from community stakeholders.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) opposed a site for Bridgescape at 7037 S. Stony Island Ave. because it was located near a daycare center, and she worried it would attract the wrong element to the area. As a result, the school decided to open its South Side campus in Roseland.
Luis Mota, manager of Quality Beauty Supply, 3222 W. 63rd St., said he may institute new policies if Ombudsman Chicago opens a school next door to his business.
"Having an alternative high school around here could be good and bad," Mota said. "It could be good for my business because we sell a lot of hair products appealing to teenagers. But then again teenagers like to enter stores by the bunch and usually most of them are not buying anything."
To prevent potential shoplifters, Mota said he would lock his doors after school and only allow five students at a time inside.
"There's no way my staff could watch 20 kids in here. And I'm not saying they would try to steal, but when you have that many people in your store at once, you have to keep an eye out just in case," added Mota.
For more information about Ombudsman Chicago, call (312) 806-9022.