Central City High School proposal addressed at community meetings
July 4, 2013

By Alexandra Brown and Susan S. Stevens

Good high schools offering a quality education do exist in this area—but often they are inconvenient, unaffordable, and not even an option for many families with eighth graders.

Recognizing the need for another option, Dennis O’Neill, executive director of Connecting4Communities, has proposed creating Central City High School in the Roosevelt Square development area, south of Roosevelt Road at 14th Street near Blue Island Avenue. Central City High School would provide guaranteed seats for any ninth through 12th grade resident of the “Central City,” which includes the four areas represented by Connecting4Communities: Little Italy, University Village and Commons, Roosevelt Square and Brooks Homes, and Tri-Taylor.

Officials and local residents discussed the idea at community meetings May 30 at Skinner West School and June 4 at Columbia College. O’Neill said groundbreaking could occur in a year, although Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials have not approved it yet. “CPS seems legitimately interested in our community feedback,” noted South Loop resident Bryan Wood. Chicago Housing Authority leaders have expressed willingness to discuss a change in land use to allow construction of a school.

Besides guaranteeing seats for local residents, the school would have seats for graduates from seven city grade schools — Skinner West, Washington Irving, Smyth, Galileo, Jackson, STEM, and South Loop Elementary — regardless of the students’ residency.

The proposed non-charter, non-contract high school would provide an international baccalaureate component as well as eight science labs, 50 all-purpose classrooms, and a pool. The high school could accept between 1,400 and 1,500 students, similar to the size of Whitney Young and Jones College Prep high schools.

The need for another high school in the area spurred research by individuals involved in opening the STEM Magnet School, including O’Neill; they studied both CPS data and U.S. Census Bureau information.

“We need to keep these people in the city,” said O’Neill, noting a dip in Chicago’s high school student population between 2000 and 2010. Wood agreed, saying “People want to see their tax dollars being spent on something important like a school or they are going to leave the city.”

O’Neill added the city needs another option for families who either cannot pay tuition for private schooling at institutions such as Saint Ignatius College Prep and Latin School of Chicago’s Upper School or whose children are not accepted into CPS selective enrollment schools such as Whitney Young and Walter Payton College Prep.

Central City High School supporters hope such a school will give students a quality education while freeing parents from the stress related to acceptance based on grades and test scores, as in Selective Enrollment schools, as well as the gamble involved with magnet school lotteries.

Upon hearing this proposal, audience members at the Skinner meeting expressed positive feelings, with attendees stating “you really don’t have to sell it” and that it is a “genius idea.” Seven aldermen have signed a letter supporting the new high school.

Richard Weindorfer, President of the South Loop Neighbors, noted that his group “has not taken a stand either way about the Central City High School. At this time we do not have enough information.”

In the fall, Connecting4Communities will ask residents to write, call, and “do whatever they can to push for this idea,” O’Neill said. He noted that, to encourage CPS to build the school, “CPS wants to see a lot of people in favor of this. My goal is to break ground on this next year.”

For more information, log on to www.connecting4communities.wordpress.com.