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Free School Finds Home at Augustana Lutheran Church

By Sam Cholke | January 17, 2014 8:20am
 Former middle school teacher Lauren Beitler wants to start a more democratic private school in Hyde Park.
Former middle school teacher Lauren Beitler wants to start a more democratic private school in Hyde Park.
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Lauren Beitler

HYDE PARK — A new alternative school in Hyde Park that parents are hustling to open by next fall overcame a big hurdle this week when it found a permanent home at Augustana Lutheran Church.

“For us at Augustana, we really understand ourselves as a church that wants to use our assets for the community,” said the Rev. Stephanie Jaeger, adding that the school was a good fit for the church.

The Free School’s approximately 60 students will occupy eight classrooms on the second floor of the 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave. church.

“It feels like a huge step forward for us,” said Lauren Beitler, a former middle school teacher in the Chicago Public Schools who first proposed starting a Free School in Hyde Park.

The Free School model puts a heavy emphasis on the democratic process and provides students a say in the school’s code of conduct and how those who break the rules are punished.

Beitler taught at the Free School in Albany, N.Y., after becoming frustrated with CPS. When she returned in October, she began working with a group of Hyde Park parents that has grown to 65 families to start such a school here.

“I’ve heard that we’re the talk of the playground,” Beitler said.

Beitler said she already has a stack of resumes from teachers who want to teach at the school when it opens.

She said the next step is a fundraising campaign to raise $30,000 to tide the school over until it starts collecting tuition. Tuition will be on a sliding scale and Beitler said the school would start registering students in the next few weeks to fill approximately 60 slots.

Beitler said right now she is meeting with hesitant parents to talk to them about the transition to a high school where their child may have less autonomy.

“Even though the high school experience is very different, they are prepared to guide themselves through it,” Beitler said.

She said the school still provides structure and discipline, but the kids are more involved in determining what the rules will be and what happens to people who break the rules. She said her experience in Albany showed her the Free School deals with issues like bullying well because conflict resolution is such a priority for everyone involved.

Beitler said she expects the fundraising drive for the school to start in the second week of February.