SOUTH LOOP — The controversial closure of National Teachers Academy in favor of a new South Loop high school is moving forward.
Chicago Public Schools formally recommended Friday that the South Loop grade school at 55 W. Cermak Road be closed and converted to a new neighborhood high school serving all or parts of the South Loop, Bronzeville, Bridgeport, Chinatown and other Near South Side neighborhoods.
“CPS is taking an important step toward building diverse, high quality neighborhood schools that will serve your children from pre-K through high school graduation,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and Chief Education Officer Janice K. Jackson wrote in letters sent Friday to affected families.
“We did not make this decision lightly, and we believe this is in the best interest of the entire community. We also believe it was important to make a decision so that we could move forward together.”
South Loop families have clamored for years for a new high school in the quickly growing neighborhood, but the move will come at the sacrifice of National Teachers Academy, which has achieved academic success recently despite serving a predominantly low-income student body.
The announcement comes after a series of community forums this summer that were often contested by National Teachers Academy parents.
Jackson said in an interview Friday that CPS heard parents' concerns and made major changes to its plan as a result. Under plans, CPS will now push back the new high school's introduction to 2019, will phase in National Teachers Academy's conversion and the building will continue too be managed by the Academy of Urban School Leadership, a non-profit that trains teachers who fan out among 30 CPS schools it manages.
The high school will keep the National Teachers Academy name, Jackson said.
"We think the model of a training academy is very important and heard from people that this is critically important," Jackson said. "We see no reason to disrupt the model that’s been there for close to two decades now and produced some great teachers for CPS."
National Teachers Academy teachers will compete for jobs with South Loop Elementary School teachers during the conversion. Teachers at both schools are members of the Chicago Teachers Union, whose contract states that "highly rated tenured teachers" will be reassigned "to the extent that new positions for which the teacher are eligible are opened."
A teachers' union spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
If approved by the Board of Education, the conversion would begin in the fall of 2019, though the majority of National Teachers Academy students would be allowed to stay at the school as the high school in their building gradually expands.
Nothing new but here's CPS' latest plan for South Loop/NTA pic.twitter.com/AMXan9suzH— David Lee Matthews (@DavidLMatthews) August 21, 2017
The South Loop is one of few growing neighborhoods in Chicago as the city faces widespread population loss. The Downtown neighborhood is also in the midst of a construction boom that projects to bring thousands of new homes south of Roosevelt Road.
Nearby South Loop Elementary School is getting a new building at 16th and Dearborn streets following years of overcrowding. CPS' plan also calls to expand the elementary school's boundaries down to Cermak Road, which would cut into National Teachers Academy's territory even if it remains open.
Aldermen Howard Brookins Jr. (21st), Pat Dowell (3rd), Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) and Danny Solis (25th), whose wards all include neighborhoods that would be affected by the new high school, voiced their support Friday for the school conversion.
All students at National Teachers Academy would be eligible to attend South Loop Elementary School, which stands to have three campuses including its current building at 1212 S. Plymouth Court and early childhood center at 1915 South Federal St.
Parents and staff at National Teachers Academy alleged that the school district is essentially snuffing out a low-income student body in favor of a more affluent one, but city officials including Claypool and Dowell have argued that their recommendation will create a more diverse student body on the Near South Side.
"When South Loop Elementary School was built, boundaries were drawn that excluded and separated low-income black children from their peers," Claypool and Jackson wrote in their letter. "This was wrong then, and it is wrong now, and this recommendation will right a historical wrong.”
Jackson said CPS will determine the high school's boundaries after soliciting more input from neighbors. The attendance boundary will be presented to the public before the Board of Education votes, she said.
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 National 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.
Jackson said a steering committee of "respected community leaders" will provide feedback to CPS before a plan is formally introduced to the Board of Education. Jackson said parents, principals and teachers at both National Teachers Academy and South Loop Elementary will serve on the committee.
CPS said the Board will likely vote on the proposal in February, and school officials will host other community forums beforehand.