CHICAGO — Efforts to combine Ogden International School with Jenner Academy of the Arts are back on, with a consultant studying how the two seemingly disparate schools could merge.
NextLevelNPO LLC has been commissioned to examine a merger between the Gold Coast and Cabrini-Green schools, with its "feasibility" reports due by the end of September, NextLevel partner Suzanne Campion told Ogden parents Monday.
The study is likely to rekindle a lively debate from last year, when the schools' principals proposed a merger to address their contrasting enrollment problems.
But this time, Campion said, the study will strip the emotions out of the proposal to present the schools' options in a "research-intensive" way.
"We come to this with no bias or pre-ordained idea of what should happen," she told Ogden parents Monday.
Ogden is battling overcrowding at its east campus, 24 W. Walton St., a K-5 neighborhood school that draws students from the Gold Coast and other affluent Downtown neighborhoods. Jenner, 1119 N. Cleveland Ave., opened a big new building near the demolished Cabrini-Green homes 16 years ago but still enrolls only 220 students, according to CPS.
The proposal would not only combine schools, but also different student bodies. Nearly all of Jenner's students are raised in low-income households, and 97 percent of them are black. Only 21 percent of Ogden elementary's students are considered low income, and 46 percent of them are white.
The proposal quickly drew support from some neighbors and parents of both schools last year, but was later scrapped amid concerns from other parents and lukewarm support from CPS.
The study is funded through a $25,000 grant from the Chicago Community Trust, among other private donations, and Campion said she's already spoken with 170 different people since the study was commissioned in June.
Her interview subjects range from student parents to CPS officials, developers, city planners, faith leaders, police and anyone "who could provide us with a lot of data so we can project out beyond today," Campion said.
The consultant is also seeking input through a website it set up for the study.
"Our interest here reflects our broader interest in racial equity and overcoming segregation in our community," said Terry Mazany, president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust. "This seems to be a real case in point of an opportunity."
Though the study means merger talks aren't dead, some observers believe it's simply a tactic that's taking merger talks away from the schools and placing them into CPS' hands. Principals Michael Beyer and Robert Croston, who led the merger push last year, have been told not to talk to media about the proposal now.
CPS has yet to take a stance on the merger, saying vaguely it supports a "community-driven process" to alleviate the schools' concerns.
One of the study skeptics is Michele Dreczynski, who lives in the area.
"To say it's a parents' decision ... that's not true," Dreczynski said. "It's a systemic problem that needs a systemic solution."
"I'm saddened by the amount of work it takes to show what seems to be such a right, fiscally responsible, inclusive decision," she added.
A merger has to be approved by Dec. 1 for it to take effect next school year. A CPS spokeswoman didn't return messages seeking comment.
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