SOUTH LOOP — Chicago Public Schools will formally pitch a new South Loop high school to neighbors Tuesday, a plan CPS says solves a "few problems" but creates a new one for the parents who stand to lose their grade school.
Janice Jackson, CPS' chief education officer, said in an interview that converting the National Teachers Academy at 55 W. Cermak Road to a high school will address a decade-long need for a neighborhood high school in the fast-growing area south of Roosevelt Road. If built, the school would serve the South Loop as well as parts of Bronzeville, Bridgeport and Chinatown.
Sacrificing the academy for a high school would make nearby South Loop Elementary School's student body more diverse, keep South Loop families in CPS schools and save the cash-strapped school district money compared to the cost of building a new high school, Jackson said.
Converting the academy would cost between $5 million and $10 million, a fraction of the $75 million a brand new high school would cost to build, she said.
"We don’t have the additional dollars to build a brand new high school every time there is a lack of quality seats in an area," Jackson said. "It’s our responsibility to look at our portfolio of schools with creativity and sometimes sacrifice to create some balance."
CPS will present its plan to neighbors at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 S. Michigan Ave.
The plan is sure to draw ire from some parents at the academy, which opened in 2002 and sits on a large lot near two "L" stops on Cermak Road. The school is managed by non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership and serves 687 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
Many academy parents were alarmed when CPS recently announced that the new South Loop Elementary School's boundaries would extend south to Cermak Road, cutting into the academy's territory. The new elementary school will open in 2019 at 1601 S. Dearborn St.
Nearly 82 percent of the academy's students are black, while South Loop Elementary's student body is more diverse. Some academy parents liken CPS' South Loop strategy to a colonization that will drive out their school.
A converted academy would only be able to house 1,100 high school students, but Jackson said she isn't worried her high school plan isn't big enough. The South Loop is one of the few neighborhoods in Chicago gaining population, with thousands of new homes planned over the next several years.
"It definitely serves the need now and will over time," Jackson said. "If we look back and the South Loop is more sought after than it already is … we will go back to the drawing board."
Jackson said she's open to hearing neighbors' concerns at the meeting, but CPS has yet to develop other options for bringing a new high school to the area.
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., is nearby, but as one of the city's most prestigious it's also one of the most difficult to gain admission to.
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.
Tuesday's meeting is the first of three community presentations before CPS will further pursue any school changes on the city's Near South Side.
LOOK AT CPS' PITCH:
CPS' ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: