ENGLEWOOD — A proposed new high school in Englewood should combine four schools with plummeting enrollment into one at the site of Paul Robeson High School, community leaders said at a meeting this week.
The school, which would be built at Robeson's current site at 6835 S. Normal Blvd., could open by fall 2019, according to a presentation by the Englewood Community Action Council, a group working closely with Chicago Public Schools.
The council — which was created by CPS and has been meeting with local school councils, parents and aldermen for months and surveyed 1,200 community members — introduced its plan Tuesday night at Greater St. John AME Church, 6201 S. Throop St.
The Rev. Kevin Brooks, pastor and co-chairman of the Englewood council, said the group — whose 41 members include officials with other groups including Teamwork Englewood and the Resident Association of Greater Englewood — is standing up for the children of Englewood because “this is about them.”
“Our children have not been a priority because they’re black and come from working-class families,” he told about 50 people in the audience. “We’re letting the city know that we have a voice.”
The three schools that would be closed and combined with Robeson, which has 148 students, include:
• TEAM Englewood Community Academy High School, 6201 S. Stewart Ave., which has 143 students;
• Harper High School, 6520 S. Wood St., which has 160 students;
• John Hope Academy, at 5501 S. Lowe Ave., which has 122 students.
All three schools have the second-lowest academic ranking in the CPS system. Robeson has the lowest ranking.
Council co-chairwoman Dori Collins said Robeson would be an ideal location “mainly because of the campus it sits on and the square footage."
While the proposal requires new construction at the site, the group is working on an economic plan to support the price tag, Collins said.
Collins said that $75 million has been set aside in the CPS capital budget under the heading, "New Southside High School Construction."
During Tuesday's presentation, the group said the school would be a "STEM hybrid" that would "provide science and technology-based curriculum that will prepare students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in STEM careers and postsecondary educational opportunities."
It would also offer an international baccalaureate program as well as dual-credit enrollment, career and technical education, apprenticeships, internships and externships.
While officials did not say how many students the school would serve or when it would open, the presentation noted that Englewood has 1,189 sixth-graders who would be eligible to be in the school's inaugural freshman class.
A representative from the mayor’s office and CPS network chief Megan Hougard were both present, along with 17th Ward Ald. David Moore and 16th Ward Ald. Toni Foulkes. None of them made official remarks to meeting attendees, and CPS officials declined to comment.
Improving schools, declining enrollment
The proposal comes as schools in Englewood are showing improvement, according to the presentation. Schools in "good standing" rose by 20 percent, while the number students performing at grade level has been trending upward for three years in a row.
Attendance growth was better than the district average, and the percent of students on track to graduate on time increased by "substantial" margins.
But those students are traveling out of the community for high school, Collins said.
The presentation showed that all three schools slated to close had seen huge drops in neighborhood enrollment in the last decade. Harper had 1,459 students in 2004, and Robeson had 1,249.
While Robeson attracted 74 percent of local students, it only attracts less than 5 percent now. Harper gets less than 14 percent.
What happens to the current buildings?
The group would like to repurpose Harper.
“We know that’s a beautiful, historic facility,” Collins said. “It’s a fantastic structure, so why get rid of it?”
Hope shares a campus with Kipp Bloom College Prep, a charter school that serves grades five through eight, so the buildings will remain as educational institutions.
Team Englewood shares campus with Urban Prep Academy.
“We don’t want to see buildings being torn down,” Collins said.
Moore said after the meeting that his first sit-down with CPS officials was Monday, and he was given only limited information. He acknowledged that closing schools was on the table but said "if there's a way we can do that without closing schools, if that's a possibility, then that's the right way to do it."
He said "nothing is final yet" and if the community can drive the process, it "becomes a win-win situation."
Although CPS officials haven’t confirmed details of plans for a new high school, in February Mayor Rahm Emanuel mentioned the possibility of building one in the community at a news conference about the city’s Department of Fleet and Facility Management moving its headquarters to Englewood.
“We’re talking about a new high school in this area,” he said, while he was at the old Kennedy-King College site in Englewood. Later, a source in the mayor’s office acknowledged that Emanuel mentioned a “prospective new high school for Englewood during an event in the community” but said that there have been no formal plans.
Community member and activist Hal Baskin said the ideas put forth were part of a "great presentation," but he worried about the school closings and thought the community needed another high school that required students to test in.
“Consolidation is a code word. Underutilization, code word,” he said. “You all remember that? They closed 50 schools. ... If we’re going to build a new school, we need to build a selective-enrollment school.”
“We need to make CPS stop funding those new schools we call charter and put the money back into our schools. We know the Chicago Public Schools wants to get out of the educating business. We’re not going to let that happen in Englewood.”
Resident Association of Greater Englewood President Aysha Butler, who was the co-chairwoman of the Community Action Council from 2011-2013, said the group hasn’t taken a formal stance on the proposal yet because they still have questions and concerns. The group, which has members on the council, supports the council’s leadership team exploring options for the new school.
The association "fully supports the Englewood Community Action Council decision to pursue a new high school in the greater Englewood community," the group said in a letter of support. "We trust that this body will engage with the community, present necessary data and move in a direction that will be beneficial to all students of Greater Englewood."
But it’s too early to say if they approve of the proposal yet, Butler said. The association had its members-only meeting the same night of the council meeting.
“We want to hear from residents and parents" first, Butler said. “Our members like data.”
One issue the organization has is the proposed school's STEM focus.
“If community says STEM, fine,” Butler said. “Right now from our data, I know there aren’t many elementary schools that fed into a STEM curriculum. There was nothing about arts, nothing about vocational. For us, if we’re going to get a $75 million school, we want to see curriculum around housing, construction work and vocational jobs that speak to our current demographics, not that one that people are fearing is on their way into Englewood.”
On Tuesday, community members were invited to propose questions, but were told their questions would be reviewed and answered at a later date.
Presenters said they would incorporate feedback into the school proposal before making a formal announcement of it. More public forums will be scheduled, presenters said.