SOUTH LOOP — Chicago Public Schools has softened its message on closing National Teachers Academy and converting it to a new South Loop high school, saying the shift would be "gradual."
And every student who attends National Teachers Academy would now be grandfathered into the new South Loop Elementary School once it opens in 2019, regardless of whether they live inside or outside the new school's boundaries, CPS said.
The change of tune came at a South Loop school forum Tuesday night, the second of three forums CPS has planned as it weighs how to handle a quickly changing neighborhood clamoring for a new high school amid a development boom.
A throng of National Teachers Academy parents and staff upset at the prospect of losing their school packed a South Loop church earlier this month to voice their opposition to CPS' plan. Despite the school district's new attempt at compromise, some of those parents are still dismayed.
About 80 percent of National Teachers Academy students are raised in low-income households, compared to a 29 percent low-income rate at nearby South Loop Elementary. Many National Teachers Academy parents say that CPS' decision to invest in one neighborhood elementary school and close theirs is a classist one. The new South Loop Elementary School will cost more than $60 million to build.
"When deciding whose needs to prioritize, it's clear that CPS is appeasing wealthy constituents at the expense of the low-income residents that the mayor has continuously pushed out of their schools, their homes, and their city," Elisabeth Greer, chairwoman of National Teacher's Academy School Council, wrote in an email.
CPS told parents Tuesday that it is open to a "gradual" conversion that would allow "some" of National Teacher Academy's older students to finish elementary school at the academy and then remain at the building at 55 W. Cermak Road for high school. The school district pledged that all National Teachers Academy students would be able "to stay with their peers until they graduate."
A new South Loop Elementary School meant to address that grade school's overcrowding will open in 2019 at 1601 S. Dearborn St., and CPS already plans to extend the new school's boundaries down to Cermak Road, cutting into the National Teacher Academy's territory.
The CPS announcement that all National Teachers Academy students would be grandfathered into the new South Loop school's boundary is an attempt to assuage fears of some parents that their families would be cut out of the neighborhood.
If realized, the new South Loop high school at National Teachers Academy would fit about 1,100 students and also serve parts of Armour Square, Bridgeport, Bronzeville and Chinatown.
CPS on Tuesday also dispelled alternative options previously brought up by neighbors such as constructing a new high school building, investing in existing Near South Side high schools or using the new South Loop Elementary building as a high school.
CPS said less than 4 percent of teenagers who graduated from Near South Side elementary schools in the last decade chose to attend nearby high schools such as Wendell Phillips Academy in Bronzeville or Tilden Career Community Academy in Canaryville. Less than 6 percent of those graduates attended Dunbar Vocational high school, which is also in Bronzeville.
A brand new high school would cost too much to build, even at the site slated for the new South Loop Elementary School, CPS said. The new elementary school will cost more than $60 million, and CPS said Tuesday a high school on the site would cost about $100 million.
Expanding capacity at Jones College Prep, a selective-enrollment school that operates near capacity, also is "not a feasible option," CPS said.
Converting National Teachers Academy "was determined to be the most viable option to quickly bring high-quality neighborhood seats to the area while establishing a continuum of high-quality options for families from pre-K through 12th grade," CPS stated in a packet distributed to those who attended Tuesday's meeting.
The third and final CPS forum will begin at 5 p.m. July 10 at National Teachers Academy, 55 W. Cermak Road.