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Another Charter School Is Eyeing St. Jerome's Building in Rogers Park

By Linze Rice | February 15, 2016 5:25am
 Another charter school is eyeing the St. Jerome's building at 1707 W. Morse Ave.
Another charter school is eyeing the St. Jerome's building at 1707 W. Morse Ave.
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ROGERS PARK — After community members successfully stopped Noble Charter Schools from moving into the former St. Jerome's Catholic School last summer, another charter could be eyeing the same spot in Rogers Park again. 

At a Local School Council meeting Thursday at New Field Elementary — which is directly across the street from St. Jerome's at 1707 W. Morse Ave. — Principal Carlos Patiño told members he met with Myrel Cooke, an administrator with Youth Connection Charter Schools, within the last two weeks.

Youth Connection represents Truman Middle College, an alternative high school inside Truman College in Uptown. The school allows students to earn diplomas even if they've missed school for behavioral problems, aged-out or have other special circumstances for not completing a traditional high school program.

Susan Burritt, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said in a statement to DNAinfo, "leadership at St. Jerome Parish has been approached by the Youth Connections Charter School, however, the Archdiocese and the parish are engaged in only the initial stages of discussion and evaluating this real estate opportunity."

Michael Passman, a CPS spokesman, confirmed Youth Connection Charter Schools submitted a request to relocate the Truman campus.

"CPS is reviewing the application to determine if the proposal is in the best interest of the community," Passman said.

Cooke could not immediately be reached for comment.

During their meeting, Patiño said he felt it was made "abundantly clear" by Cooke that the "ball is rolling" on the project.

Before amendments, like relocating, can be made, charters must first submit an application to CPS, which will then make a recommendation to the Board of Education. The board will then approve or deny the change.

LSC members suggested inviting Cooke to the next meeting to learn more about the school's plans, but new schools must submit an application to CPS by Feb. 22, which is before New Field's next LSC meeting.

Patiño said he had "mixed emotions" over Cooke's presentation.

On one hand, he said he didn't know "how long we can hold out" against a charter making its way into the old Catholic school building. Since the high school wouldn't be competing with New Field students, and because some of the older students already live in the neighborhood, Patiño said he wasn't concerned with the charter siphoning resources from his school.

But LSC members did express concern that about not getting enough notice of the possibility and potential safety issues.

For one, the high school would have about 200-250 students who would begin the day at a staggered start time from New Field's, Patiño said, but other members worried additional students — especially older kids — might disturb the school's ecosystem.

"New Field is the crown jewel of Rogers Park schools," LSC member Matthew Muir said. "I mean, just incredible. I can't imagine risking the quality we have here in any way, and I think that this risks that."

Members said they also weren't fond of the idea of high schoolers out smoking cigarettes feet away from where elementary school kids play, and feared that if a potential fight broke out among the teens it could tarnish the area's reputation.

One member said he was worried that the additional influx of teens walking down Morse Avenue, a gang hotspot in the neighborhood, could lead to increased trouble and put the Youth Connection students in danger themselves.

"I feel like we're being bullied, like a quiet bully," one member said. "It's like a thief in the night kind of sense."

Ultimately, Patiño and other members said if the school wanted to locate a few blocks further away they would be more supportive. The LSC Thursday decided to reaffirm a referendum it passed last year opposing any charter school from opening in the St. Jerome's building.

New Field's LSC, including Muir, Patiño and others, led the charge last year in a community-wide push against Noble taking the St. Jerome's spot as part of the "Say No to Noble" group.

After a rally and private meeting with Rep. Kelly Cassidy, Noble representatives agreed to stay out of the neighborhood.

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