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New Charter High School in Corliss High Building Gets Community Support

By Wendell Hutson | February 25, 2014 9:26am
 The building that has housed George H. Corliss High School in Pullman since 1975 now shares the building with Pullman College Prep.
Butler College Prep
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PULLMAN — Denise Washington has lived in Pullman for three years and said she's happy to see a new public high school available for local students.

The 33-year-old single mother of two said she plans to send her two small children to Pullman College Prep when they graduate from elementary school.

"I like having a school within walking distance from my home. Since the school opened up across the street I have not noticed any changes as far as the way the kids act," Washington said. "I hope the school is still here by the time my kids go to high school."

Washington, who lives in the 10300 block of South Corliss Avenue, said her two children attend nearby Wendell Smith Elementary School, 744 E. 103rd St.

Pullman, a charter school that opened August, has 100 freshmen and plans to add one grade each year for the next three years, said Angela Montagna, a spokeswoman for Noble Network of Charter Schools.

Clarence Webb has lived in Pullman since 1965 and said he remembers signing a petition in 1975 that asked residents to support the creation of George H. Corliss High School, 821 E. 103rd St. His son and three grandkids attended Corliss.

"I also signed a petition to have the Wendell Smith School built at the corner too," recalled Webb, 68. "But as far as how the Corliss kids act now that another school is in the building, I'd say sometimes they are rowdy and sometimes they are all right."

James Johnson, 32, moved to Pullman in January and lives across the street from Corliss. He said as far as he can see "everyone gets along OK."

But Edward Ford, a Corliss alumnus, said he is opposed to any school operating inside his alma mater.

"I don't like it at all. That's my school. I think this new school will force Corliss out. I am a true blue Corliss Trojan, and I don't understand why Corliss allowed this to happen," said Ford, 46. "Corliss is not a bad school, but something should be done to make a way for neighborhood schools like Corliss to stay open."

And if Corliss should ever close, Ford said it would be a blow to the neighborhood.

"For the last three years we have had an all-class reunion picnic, and it would be a shame if that tradition couldn't continue with new students," added Ford.

The building that houses Corliss and Pullman is 120,000 square feet, and the charter school occupies about 45,000 square feet with "no plans to expand," Montagna said.

The entrance for Pullman is adjacent to the Corliss entrance and across the street from the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.

The Chicago Public Schools agreed to let the charter school share the Corliss building due to low enrollment at the high school, CPS spokeswoman Jamila Johnson said.

"Enrollment at Corliss had dropped significantly over a six-year period and was projected for further decline. This year, Corliss' 20th-day enrollment was 497," Johnson said.

Even Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), a Corliss alumnus whose ward includes the school building, said declining enrollment had forced "some creative ways to keep it open."

But housing charter schools inside neighborhood school buildings is nothing new for CPS.

In Englewood, Urban Prep Academy High School and Team Englewood High School share the same building.

"CPS has used the co-location model previously to find facility solutions for charter schools. This model helps efficiently use space in a school that is underutilized, or has excess space for the number of students who currently attend the school," said Johnson.

And although its official name is Pullman College Prep, the school was renamed Butler College Prep, with signs inside and outside the building displaying the new name.

"The school is named for John and Alice Butler of Dubuque, Iowa. They were interested in investing in a school to improve educational options for students in Chicago and chose Butler College Prep," Montagna said.

But the Chicago Board of Education hasn't approved the name change.

"Noble has put in a request for a name change, but the board has yet to approve it," Johnson said. "We were unaware that Noble had already changed the name."

Montagna said the school chose not to wait for the School Board's vote because it did not want to confuse parents.

"As we are working to establish a new school within a community, we want to be sure the community is familiar with the permanent name of the school," Montagna said.