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Charter Schools Presentation Panned as 'Dog and Pony Show'

By Darryl Holliday | November 30, 2013 8:27am | Updated on November 30, 2013 10:21am
 Northwest Side residents claim the two proposed schools will be built whether the community agrees or not.
Northwest Side residents claim the two proposed schools will be built whether the community agrees or not.
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DNAinfo/Darryl Holliday

PORTAGE PARK — Two charter schools vying for approval to build new campuses on the city's Northwest Side came before the community this week — a move some of those present likened to "a dog and pony show."

The Noble Network and Intrinsic Schools are seeking approval for the construction of two new charter campuses in and around Belmont Cragin. But several members of the local Neighborhood Advisory Council, who were given the opportunity to question school leaders during a meeting Monday, said the schools' proposals will likely pass whether the community approves them or not.

Tim Meegan described the nearly three-hour meeting at the Portage Park Field House, during which top officials from both Noble and Intrinsic charter schools presented their plans, as "tense." 

"I don’t think there's a need for either" new school, he said. "But we can make our decision and they can flat-out ignore the whole thing — it makes it seem like a dog and pony show."

The ITW Speer Academy, a STEM charter in the Noble Network, would serve 900 students and is planned for construction at 5357 W. Grand Ave — located across the street from neighborhood high school Prosser Career Academy. Noble Network leaders, including chief executive affairs officer Rhonda Kochlefl and chief operating officer Mike Madden were on hand at the meeting Monday night.

Likewise, Intrinsic charter school, is slated for an undetermined location on the Northwest Side. According to Melissa Zaikos, Intrinsic CEO, the charter organization plans to build five new campuses in five years — a plan she acknowledged as "aggressive" in response to questions on Monday.

The city has approved a new Noble charter school as well as a new Intrinsic campus — both at a construction cost of roughly $15 million — but, according to Alonso Zaragosa, a librarian and Neighborhood Advisory Council member, neither school is needed in the area proposed by the charters.

"I would support something further north where there is a need. ... Nobody is opposed to that. But to put a new high school on the southwest end of Belmont Cragin, there's just not a need," he said.

Safety is also a concern in terms of the Noble charter proposal and neighboring school Prosser, Zaragosa said, an issue also raised by Meegan and Ald. Nick Sposato (36th), whose ward contains both schools.

The proposed location of the new Noble charter school, across the street from Prosser, will invite dangerous student conflict and adversely affect Prosser's enrollment, Meegan said.

Both Meegan and Zaragoza said they were "disappointed but not surprised" after Monday's meeting.

"The community members on [the council] are doing their best to be fair," Meegan said. "I believe [both proposals] will be rejected, but I believe they will both be implemented. ... The community has a voice but no power."

"These things are done deals," he added. "The first thing they did was they bought the land, before the zoning change or any community input whatsoever."

The council will meet again Dec. 11 in hopes of getting more community input. However, a location is pending as a decision by the group to hold that meeting at Prosser was denied by Chicago Public Schools.