BACK OF THE YARDS — Community organizations, students, parents and about 18 local public schools launched a campaign Thursday opposing two possible new Noble charter schools on the Southwest Side.
At a press conference held outside of the Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School, principals called for a responsible plan to sustain enrollment in all public schools.
“Where is the conversation with us about high school expansion in this community? Where is the conversation with our LSCs and our local community representatives to provide a coherent, understandable and concrete plan for expansion in this community?” asked Karen Boran, the principal at John Hancock High School.
Boran said that conversation is especially important because of the improvements in existing schools like hers.
In 2010, John Hancock was on probation and in the bottom 5 percent of all high schools in the state of Illinois back. The next year, her school won a state improvement grant for $6 million a year for three years.
“We used those funds to dramatically change our profile and the acceptance of our school in the community,” Boran said.
In September of last year, the school was notified it would become a selective enrollment high school.
“What that means is that parents and children in this community no longer have to put their kids on two buses and an 'L' to send them to Lane Tech, or Jones, or selective enrollment schools outside our community,” she said.
And now that there are valuable choices on the Southwest Side, she doesn’t understand why Noble is moving forward with its proposal. The tentative locations are an empty lot on 47th Street and California Avenue, and a former Catholic school at 57th Street and Karlov Avenue that recently closed its doors because of budget cuts.
Later Thursday, hundreds of people filled the auditorium of Kelly High School in Brighton Park at a town hall meeting convened by the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, the Chicago Teachers Union, Grassroots Collaborative and several other groups.
Parents, teachers, and students sat shoulder to shoulder as a long list of speakers including students and some elected officials voiced their views on how an expansion of Noble charters in the area could affect their schools.
“I stand here before you against an expansion of charter schools in the Southwest Side and in support of our local Chicago public schools,” said Ald. Marty Quinn (13th). “Charters were created ... to develop best practices to be shared. Charters were not developed to be competition.”
Quinn and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, whose district includes the Southwest Side, drafted a joint letter addressed to Chicago Public School’s Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz.
“We wish to register our opposition to a proposal that would place a charter school on the Southwest Side,” the letter said.
Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a former candidate for mayor, called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the CPS leadership to “rethink the chartermania that has been ramped in Chicago, to invest in neighborhoods schools throughout the city of Chicago. ... And don’t think that any new vacant lot should just have a new charter built on it.”
He added that residents’ tax dollars need to be invested back into the public schools, especially as CPS experiences one of its worse financial crisis.
Matthew McCabe, director of government affairs at the Noble Network of Charter Schools, said those who attended the town hall meeting Thursday were not really representative of the entire Southwest Side community.
“Of course if the room is full, it’s going to be full with people [that have] a particular opinion,” he said. “I think who was not in the room there was the 1,500 parents who have already chosen to send their kids to Noble schools. Those are the people we are focused on.”
McCabe had previously said the Southwest Side area high schools are overcrowded and that there is a large demand for Noble high schools in the area.
In a written statement, CPS said, “As part of the new school Request for Proposal process, Neighborhood Advisory Councils serve in an advisory role to CPS on behalf of communities. NAC members are in the process of reviewing proposals, acting as a point of reference, answering questions, providing information, and assessing community consensus, before they provide feedback to CPS as to whether they support the proposed school opening in the community.”
The recommendations will be made to the CPS Board in October, but in the meantime opponent Patrick Brosnan said opponents will come out in force to a August Neighborhood Advisory Council meeting. That meeting is planned for 5 p.m. Aug. 10 at the Daley College, 7500 S. Pulaski Rd.
“We are going to be demonstrating our strong opposition to this proposal,” Brosnan said.
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