SOUTH LOOP — National Teachers Academy could be converted to a neighborhood high school once the new South Loop Elementary School is built nearby, top CPS officials said Tuesday.
Forrest Claypool and Janice Jackson, respectively the chief executive and education officers at Chicago Public Schools, announced a series of community hearings this summer regarding the future of the academy at 55 W. Cermak Road in a letter to parents.
While reiterating CPS' stance to "strengthen" the academy "so that it continues to effectively serve the community," Claypool and Jackson wrote that some have suggested the academy be converted to a new neighborhood high school serving the South Loop as well as parts of Bridgeport, Bronzeville and Chinatown once the new South Loop Elementary School opens in 2019 a few blocks away at 1601 S. Dearborn St.
"We are exploring ways to best serve all your children with schools that not only provide strong academic programs, but also meet all the educational needs of this community, including high quality options for children from pre-K through their senior year of high school," the letter reads.
The suggestion is welcome news to South Loop parents clamoring for a new neighborhood high school amid a Downtown building boom that will bring thousands of new homes south of Roosevelt Road.
But it also affirms academy parents' fears that they'll lose their school, which serves 687 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, as it gets absorbed into the new South Loop Elementary envelope. Many academy parents were alarmed when CPS recently announced that the new South Loop school's boundaries would extend south to Cermak Road, cutting into the academy's territory.
"I don’t want to drag out the conversation when I know the direction the district is going in," Jackson said at a town hall meeting last month.
The letter sent Tuesday does not state who suggested the academy's conversion to a high school.
South Loop high school students are currently zoned into Wendell Phillips Academy, 244 E. Pershing Road, a Bronzeville school with a massive attendance boundary stretching from Wacker Drive to roughly 67th Street. Phillips enrolls just 533 students according to CPS, but with its entire 2016 class getting accepted into college and a recent state championship in football, Phillips officials say the school's future is bright. Still, Phillips is miles from either South Loop Elementary or the teachers academy.
Jones College Prep, a selective-enrollment high school at 700 S. State St. that's one of the city's most prestigious and difficult to get into, is another nearby high school.
City officials are spending more than $60 million, most of it from tax increment financing funds, to build the new South Loop Elementary School following years of overcrowding. South Loop Elementary opened for 580 students in 1988 at 1212 S. Plymouth Court, but now has 839 students, according to CPS.
The new South Loop school at 16th and Dearborn will fit 1,200 kids and include 50 classrooms, two computer labs, two art rooms and a rooftop play area, among other amenities. The school will house classes for kindergarten through eighth grade and is expected to open in the second semester of the 2018-19 school year.
The teachers academy is a neighborhood school managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a nonprofit that manages 30 other CPS schools, including Phillips. The academy is a relatively new school that opened in 2002 and sits on a large lot near two "L" stops on Cermak Road. The city for years has prioritized investing in the area, most visibly in the form of a new Green Line station on Cermak and assisting in the development of a new basketball arena for DePaul University.
CPS has scheduled three hearings next month, beginning with one at 5 p.m. June 6 at Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 S. Michigan Ave. The hearings will be led by network chief Herald "Chip" Johnson, who previously shepherded meetings on the proposed merger between Ogden International School and Jenner Academy of the Arts.
The hearings are sure to draw ire from teachers academy parents worried they'll lose their school.
"The South Loop is growing," Elisabeth Greer, chairwoman of the academy's local school council, told DNAinfo last month. "We need two elementary schools."