ENGLEWOOD — After months of speculation, Chicago Public Schools is finally revealing details of a new $75 million high school for the Englewood neighborhood, a proposal that would merge four schools into a new building at Robeson High School.
CPS Chief Executive Forrest Claypool and Chief Education Officer Janice K. Jackson announced the plan Friday at Kennedy-King College. CPS is describing the school as "state of the art" — with plans to open it by the 2019-2020 school year. The school would be an open-enrollment neighborhood high school.
Students from Earle STEM Academy in West Englewood were in the audience during the news conference and shared their thoughts about the new school with DNAinfo. They would be a part of the first graduating class.
Luis Lopez, a 12 year old sixth-grader, said he has been thinking about attending Lindblom Math and Science Academy for high school, but now he's excited to go to the new high school.
"From what they were talking about, it feels like it’s going to be a great high school, and I think it’s going to help my education a lot," he said.
Darnell Ward (left) and Luis Lopez will be a part of the new high school's first graduating class. [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]
His classmate Darnell Ward, 11, said he's excited about high school and plans to play basketball and football.
"I feel happy about being the first to go to the new school," he said, adding that his older brother will be attending Johnson College Prep in the fall.
CPS officials and the community announced the plans for the new Englewood high school at Kennedy-King College. [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]
That plan called for the new high school to be built on the site of Paul Robeson High School, which would merge with three other schools with plummeting enrollment: 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; and John Hope Academy, at 5501 S. Lowe Ave., which has 122 students.
The Englewood Community Action Council in April said the new school should be built at Robeson, 6835 S. Normal Blvd., which currently has just 148 students.
The council, created by CPS, met with local school councils, parents and aldermen for months and surveyed 1,200 community members.
“Today we are investing in Englewood, as we have done for the past six years, but more importantly we are investing in the children of Englewood, their education, their hopes and their dreams,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “Thanks to the strong input from residents and community leaders, soon Englewood's children will have a brand new 21st century high school that will help prepare them for success in our 21st century world.”
Jackson said that other neighborhoods such as Roseland and Chinatown submitted proposals, but Englewood was selected for a couple of reasons.
"There hasn't been a new school since the 1970s," she said. "This $75 million investment is coming to a community that hasn't had this level of investment in decades. This is worth celebrating and is remarkable."
Jackson and Claypool said that too many Englewood students are traveling miles from their community to attend school.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said the new school will add to the rebirth of Englewood.
"This will be an exciting addition," he said. "We want the best and brightest ideas. This will be a top- tier school."
The three closing schools have the second-lowest academic ranking in the CPS system. Robeson has the lowest ranking.
“As we’ve heard from members of the community, every parent dreams of sending their child to high quality schools, and this is the kind of high school that is truly a dream come true for many parents,” Jackson said. “While we plan to build a modern and beautiful facility, the heart of this building will be the top-notch learning that happens in the classrooms that inspires lifelong passions. We look forward to working with the community to design the type of academic programming that will help Englewood students achieve their dreams.”
CPS said that while Englewood's high school-age population is the sixth highest in the city, only 11 percent of students attend their neighborhood high school. More than 4 of every 10 students go to schools 4 miles or more away.
CPS plans to hold public hearings on the plan starting at 5:30 p.m. July 19 at Parker Elementary, 6800 S. Stewart Ave.
CPS said families of students at the four schools that are merging would be contacted in upcoming weeks to discuss plans for the future, but the schools will be unchanged next year.
All three schools slated to close had seen huge drops in neighborhood enrollment in the last decade, CPS said.
Source: Chicago Public Schools
Englewood council co-chairwoman Dori Collins said previously that Robeson would be an ideal location “mainly because of the campus it sits on and the square footage."
During April's presentation, the council 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.
What happens to the buildings?
Officials said the current buildings housing the other three high schools "will continue to serve the community."
Hope shares a campus with Kipp Bloom College Prep, a charter school that serves grades five through eight, and Team Englewood shares a campus with Urban Prep Academy. Robeson will remain open during construction.
“We don’t want to see buildings being torn down,” Collins said.
The Chicago Teachers Union slammed the proposal for closing schools.
"We know far too well that school closings can lead to feelings of abandonment and loss of learning," the statement said. "The teachers and staff at Harper, Hope, Robeson and TEAM Englewood not only provide stability in their students' lives, but also create classroom spaces where students can connect with one another, process their experiences and help make decisions about their communities."
The plan for a new high school comes as schools in Englewood are showing improvement. 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.