LINCOLN SQUARE — An arts-based charter school Tuesday will withdraw its proposal to open in Rogers Park after its founder said Chicago Public Schools made it impossible to find a place to operate the school.
"We wanted to share resources with neighborhood schools, [so] we could lift up a bunch of schools at once, because nobody is doing the work in the arts, arts integration or interdisciplinary learning the way that we are," Frede said of the school he began envisioning nine years ago in a doctorate program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
But Frede said CPS ordered Orange School to hire a director of academics, revise its budget, secure a facility and open by fall in order to become fully authorized.
As the next school year neared, Orange School's board decided to pull its proposal, blaming bureaucracy, unclear instruction and even behind-the-scenes maneuvering by CPS administrators for the failure.
"We had followed the path that we thought CPS had laid out for us, which turned out to be a dead-end path," said Orange School board member Marvin Hoffman, who founded the University of Chicago's first charter school, North Kenwood-Oakland.
Hoffman said the biggest hurdle was finding a building, adding that Orange wanted to share a campus — called co-location by CPS — with Gale Elementary School in Rogers Park, a school considered "underutilized" by the district.
But, suddenly, "They told us at the last minute that they had no co-location options for us — we had to secure an independent facility if we wanted to operate," Hoffman said.
The news was the "death knell" for Orange School, he said.
The school had received letters of support from Ald. Joe Moore (49th), Loyola University and community groups such as Housing Opportunities for Women, the Howard Area Community Center, Rogers Park Business Alliance, Family Matters, Good News Partners and Many People's Church.
Without commenting directly about Gale and Orange School, CPS spokeswoman Jamila Johnson said the district "only considers co-location recommendations that have community support."
But Hoffman blasted CPS.
"It's a travesty they didn’t take this idea and help nurture it into actual existence," Hoffman said. "We’ve been forced to a strategic retreat [and] hope the situation will change at some point going forward."
But some, like neighborhood school activist Tim Furman, were relieved to hear that Orange School would not be opening in the fall.
"I’m glad he’s pulling his proposal," said Furman of Frede. "And I hope he channels his energy into the neighborhood schools that are already there."
Furman — and other activists that make up Rogers Park Neighbors for Public Schools — has long been critical of charter schools, claiming that they funnel students, funding and resources away from schools that have been hit with devastating budget cuts in recent years.
In June, Gale's budget was slashed by $448,000 and the school laid off its part-time art teacher to stop the bleeding, according to school officials at the time.
But Vicki Trinder, another Orange School board member and professor at UIC, said the arts-focused school that planned to enroll up to 500 students would not be a typical charter.
"We really believed that the Orange School was an example, a shining example, of the original purpose behind charter schools," she said, which was to discover and establish innovative education practices.
Frede said Orange School would have been just that.
"Some of our allies ... are really disappointed that charter schools in Chicago have gotten away from the idea of having innovation fostered and having community-specific schools," he said.
CPS strategy "has changed from [scattering] 10,000 seeds and see which ones bloom, to now let's replicate only schools that show a track record of quality," Frede said.
Frede also said Orange School would have worked with — and complemented — established neighborhood schools.
"We're not trying to be a charter school come hell or high water," he said. "We're trying to be a charter school that would work well — that means not thumbing our nose at anybody."
For example, Frede said, he had considered opening the school on the St. Jerome's Church campus in Rogers Park, directly across the street from New Field Elementary School.
But after UNO Rogers Park, a charter school, opened at St. Scholastica's former campus nearby, Orange School's board decided against it.
"We wanted to coexist with schools without taking up too large a footprint, and that would have saturated the area with too many schools, too much competition," he said.
Frede said his board was still mulling its options, including whether to reapply to CPS later.
He said no matter what happens, he wouldn't lose his commitment to the principles of the project he started nearly a decade ago, "even if we take a totally different form."