LINCOLN PARK — Perhaps you've noticed the posters scattered throughout the neighborhood that read "#1 #1 Community" at the top.
They're part of a new campaign meant to showcase Lincoln Park High School's designation as the most challenging school in the city, according to a Washington Post yearly index released a few months ago.
It may seem simple: Through a series of events and partnerships, Lincoln Park, 2001 N. Orchard St., wants the community to know that the school has a lot to offer so it can attract more students.
But school Principal Michael Boraz will tell you there's more to it than that.
"The way the high school landscape is now ... all schools have to do more to be sure that people in their communities, and people outside of their communities, understand what their school has to offer," he said.
"You can call it competition, you can call it choice. It's just a fact of life in Chicago, whereas in many communities you go to the neighborhood school and that's it."
Boraz is referring to all of the high school options in the area. There are selective-enrollment schools like Walter Payton College Prep, 1034 N. Wells St., and Jones College Prep, 700 S. State St., as well as private schools like Francis W. Parker, 330 W. Webster Ave.
While Boraz understands the appeal of those schools — "it has meaning to get accepted to something that is selective," he said — he believes Lincoln Park High School is the best option.
In addition to the Post's ranking, the school ranked in the top five in the state for performing arts for six consecutive years.
In 2013, the school began offering a wall-to-wall International Baccalaureate program, which means all freshman and sophomores are enrolled in a rigorous academic schedule and broken up into groups based on test scores.
"Wall-to-wall IB has really encouraged students to challenge themselves academically. Years ago, you had to have a teacher recommendation [to participate in the program.] We've eliminated all of the restrictions," he said.
With the campaign, Boraz hopes to increase communication with the community as a whole and do more partnerships with neighborhood elementary schools — all in an effort to let parents know about the school's strengths.
On Saturday, there will be a kick-off event at which 100 volunteers will get together to paint all of the classrooms to make the school more aesthetically appealing to prospective parents. Boraz said he's heard parents say the school needs some cosmetic changes.
The school is losing $295,995 under the new Chicago Public Schools budget. That's a 2.07-percent decrease from last year, according to data provided by CPS. The school's total budget for the coming school is a little more than $14 million.
The cuts were in accordance with the district's student-based budgeting system. The district expects Lincoln Park High School to lose 30 students the coming school year.
Boraz was unfazed by the cuts, saying the school is "fine budget-wise." He added that the school needed to lose some students because it was on pace to become overcrowded.
He expects enrollment of roughly 2,100 student, which is more than capacity. But he said the school would need to hit 2,250 students to be considered overcrowded.
He said the campaign was not created in response to budget cuts. Instead, it's the culmination of years of planning and thinking about ways to reach neighborhood parents.
"It's not saying 'We're needy. We need money.' It's not that. It's that we want people to know in much more detail how good of a school we are and all of the different things we do."
Boraz said the number of neighborhood kids who choose Lincoln Park High School has increased over the last six years.
"The reputation has definitely improved and more people are happy to consider it as an equal choice to the selective-enrollments and private" schools, he said.
And the neighborhood continues to attract more and more families with school-age children, according to Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), whose ward includes the school.
Similar to Boraz, Smith said "there is a perception that the only options for high school are the few selective-enrollments scattered throughout the city or the very good, but very expensive private schools."
"As more parents are choosing to stay in the city and as people's personal budgets are tightening, our neighborhood high school can be the No. 1 high school for every child," she added.
When asked what will happen if the campaign works and the school sees a surge in enrollment when it's already close to overcrowding, Boraz said the school would be forced to admit fewer students from outside the neighborhood.
Attracting neighborhood kids is a priority, he said, because more neighborhood kids lead to more parent and community involvement.
"I believe, fundamentally, people have the right to a good neighborhood school," Boraz said.
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