CHICAGO — A merger of Ogden International School and Jenner Academy of the Arts is best for both schools, according to a consultant's new report.
The study by NextLevel NPO LLC is the latest endorsement of the effort to combine the seemingly disparate schools. Ogden is fighting overcrowding at its Gold Coast elementary school, while Jenner's nearby building in Cabrini-Green is so under capacity it could face the risk of being closed.
Hear David Matthews talks about the merger recommendation.
The merger might be pitched as a solution to contrasting enrollment problems, but it represents much more to those who see such a move as one of the strongest yet to integrate Chicago's de facto segregated schools.
Nearly all Jenner students are raised in low-income households, and 98 percent of them are black. Conversely, only 20 percent of the Ogden student body is low income, and 45 percent of students are white. Parents at Ogden raised more than $100,000 in a day to stave off layoffs last year.
"I'm saddened by the amount of work it takes to show what seems to be such a right, fiscally responsible, inclusive decision," Michele Dreczynski, who sits on the committee that issued the study, told DNAinfo in August.
The consultant issued its report — obtained by DNAinfo through the Freedom of Information Act — to Chicago Public Schools in September, and both Ogden and Jenner parents last week implored the Chicago Board of Education to approve a merger in time for next school year.
A merger would have to be approved by early December to take effect next school year, CPS officials said.
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 enrolls only 239 students, according to CPS.
Principals of Ogden and Jenner proposed a merger last year. The proposal quickly drew support from some neighbors and parents of both schools, but the idea was later scrapped amid concerns from other parents and lukewarm support from CPS.
A committee of school parents and neighbors secured a $25,000 grant from the Chicago Community Trust for the consultant's study, which fielded more than 260 interviews and data from city and school officials. Its key findings include:
• The vast majority of those interviewed supported a merger. Less than 10 of those interviewed were against it.
• Jenner is projected to have less than 65 percent of capacity even after accounting for future real estate development in the area.
• Ogden's east campus will continue to be more than 100 percent enrolled for the foreseeable future.
• A combined Ogden-Jenner student body would reap more federal funding because of its higher low-income population.
The study also examined merger alternatives, such as putting an addition on Ogden, auditing parent addresses, or redrawing the schools' boundaries. The consultant found the merger option most viable, and added its own research about the benefits of integrating neighborhood schools:
"A more broadly racially and socioeconomically diverse student body leads to improved academic achievement as well as cognitive and non-cognitive development for all students," the report reads. "This type of project could create an important template and positive outcomes for other schools experiencing enrollment challenges in the city of Chicago."
Though detailed, the report only presents more questions to Ogden parents worried a merger with Jenner will hurt, not help, overcrowding at their school.
To start, the study projects Ogden's east campus enrollment would actually drop over time without a merger:
One of the consultant's tables showing Ogden's east campus enrollment would fall over time without a merger and the pre-Kindergarten program it dropped years ago. [NextLevel]
And a combined Ogden-Jenner school would send seventh through 12th grades to Ogden's west campus, a converted elementary school many parents already feel is unfit for a modern-day high school. A merger would drive Ogden West's enrollment past capacity by the fall of 2020, the study says.
This table shows a merged Ogden-Jenner would drive Ogden's west campus past capacity by 2020. [NextLevel]
"There are some contradictory points" in the report, said Angie Verros, whose daughter is in fifth grade at Ogden. "If you're going to try and solve a problem, solve that problem."
Many Jenner parents feel a merger is the only way to save their school from closure. Jenner, which is at less than 35 percent capacity, was "under consideration" to be closed by CPS in 2013, but was spared because nearby Manierre Elementary was also set to be closed. CPS has since issued a five-year school closing moratorium that is set to expire in 2018.
The Board of Education would have to announce a merger by Dec. 1 for it to take effect next school year. Because of the "critical importance" of preparation and "community building activities," the consultant recommends a merger take effect no sooner than fall 2018.
Emily Bittner, a CPS spokeswoman, said in a statement that “CPS is reviewing this report, along with listening to school communities about this proposal."
Suzanne Campion of NextLevel, which wrote the report, deferred questions to the Jenner Ogden Steering Committee. Representatives of the committee did not return messages seeking comment. Principals of both Ogden and Jenner have been instructed not to talk to the media about the proposal.
Read the consultant's report in full below:
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