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Andersonville Residents Blast Charter Plan as Others Tout Schools' Benefits

By Adeshina Emmanuel | December 16, 2013 4:25pm | Updated on December 16, 2013 7:34pm
 Opponents of Passages Charter School's potential high school expansion gathered outside the school in September following the cancelation of a community meeting about the plan.
Opponents of Passages Charter School's potential high school expansion gathered outside the school in September following the cancelation of a community meeting about the plan.
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DNAinfo/Adeshina Emmanuel

ANDERSONVILLE — An Andersonville community group blasted the proposed expansion of a North Side charter school Monday afternoon as others argued for and against a series of proposals to expand charters schools citywide at a meeting Monday night.

Passages Charter School, an elementary school at 1643 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., wants to add a high school that would be called Asian Human Services College Preparatory and open in the 2014-2015 school year if approved by the Chicago Board of Education. Passages is a division of the social services agency Asian Human Services, and is managed by the American Quality Schools Corporation.

The Passages proposal was one of 21 presented by nine charter operators at a community forum Monday night at Chicago Public Schools headquarters, 125 S. Clark St.  Hundreds turned out for the meeting, including many wearing blue t-shirts in support of Concepts Schools, which wants to open locations in South Chicago and Chatham. Some people at the forum said that opening more charters in Chicago is a matter of giving kids and parents more quality school choices.

 Ald. Harry Osterman and education activists met Thursday, Nov. 22, in Edgewater to discuss Passages Charter School's plan to add high school to its campus on Bryn Mawr Avenue.
Public Meeting on Passages Charter School
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Charter critics, however, said the need for charters is being manufactured — and that the creation of new schools would hurt the resources of existing ones.

Earlier Monday, community group West Andersonville Neighbors Together sent Passages Principal Nicole Feinberg and officials a letter railing against Passages' expansion hopes.

WANT argued that "this neighborhood has no demonstrated need for an additional high school."

"Opening one would drain students and resources from the high schools already serving our area," including Senn High School in Edgewater and Amundsen High School in Ravenswood, said the letter.

Feinberg countered that her school isn't trying to put pressure on neighborhood schools.

"We are not looking to compete with large neighborhood high schools but rather continue to serve the needs of our existing population," she wrote in an email to DNAinfo Chicago.

Senn, a Level 1 school with an "excellent" ranking, has made strides since it was considered one of the school district's lower performing schools a few years ago. This year, Amundsen recently made the jump from "poor" to "good" academic standing.

The proposed high school would eventually hold a maximum of 240 kids. Passages currently has about 430 students.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) and Senn Principal Susan Lofton have already criticized the plan.

"We have a college-prep school that serves our diverse community in Edgewater — and that's called Senn High School," Osterman said in November. "We don't need a charter school. We don't need another high school in Edgewater. We have one."

While Senn is in Osterman's ward and Passages is in Ald. Pat O'Connor's ward, both aldermen have concerns about the Passages plan.

Tim Czarnecki, chief of staff to O'Connor (40th) said that "both aldermen have the same feelings," when it comes to fears that a Passages expansion could attract students away from community high schools.

"It's something [O'Connor] doesn't want to see," Czarnecki said.

He added that, "Both Senn and Amunsden have plenty of seats available for high school students."

Passages' proposal to CPS, posted on the school district's website, includes letters of support from a few local businesses, more than 100 signatures from people in favor of the expansion, a plethora of online feedback and results from surveys Passages conducted about its plans.

It also includes sign-in sheets as proof of community engagement — but WANT said Passages is exaggerating its outreach efforts.

Feinberg said that Passages has held two community meetings about the expansion, on May 16 and on Sept. 10. But WANT said that the Sept. 10 meeting happened early in the morning and that only two people showed up.

WANT also argues that Passages' proposal on the CPS website doesn't include a sign-in sheet from a May 16 meeting, but does include a sheet from a May 23 meeting that WANT alleges was only attended by parents and children at the school, not community members. WANT said the meeting wasn't publicized.

A community meeting planned for Sept. 17 was canceled, Feinberg said, because "our cafeteria flooded the day of the meeting." WANT is upset that the meeting was never rescheduled. Feinberg didn't immediately respond to questions about the May meeting or other community complaints.

WANT's letter accuses Passages of "such a disregard for the community in which it is located," and said the alleged lack of community outreach "does not bode well for a proposal that will have a great detrimental impact on that neighborhood."

Casey Cora contributed to this report.