Dowell favors CPS plan for turning NTA into high school
September 1, 2017

Closing the National Teachers Academy at 50 W. Cermak Rd. as a public elementary school and turning it into a public high school could be a shot in the arm for integration while yielding a host of other benefits, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) said. NTA has a predominantly African American student population.

Opponents of the proposed change disagree, one of the reasons being that it would displace African American students.

The Chicago Public Schools wants to transform NTA into a high school and enroll elementary school age students in South Loop Elementary School at 1212 S. Plymouth Ct., although it would allow current students to finish grade school at NTA.

Dowell argued that not only are the new school boundaries more inclusive than the old ones but “the revised boundaries reverse a terrible history of dividing neighborhoods based on race,” she said.

“The new neighborhood high school would be incredibly diverse, pulling from majority African American, Asian, and white communities,” Dowell added. “This is the type of student diversity we should strive for in all our schools.”

While the NTA student population is 80% African American, the South Loop Elementary School that would emerge is estimated to have a student population that is 43% African American, 26% white, 13% Asian, 10% Hispanic, and 8% “other,” she said, describing the new South Loop School as a “majority minority school.”

The new dual campus South Loop School, incorporating an existing building and a new grade school building to go up at 16th and Dearborn Streets, would cost substantially less than putting up two new buildings, Dowell added.

The cost of the new school building is $55 million, with $10.7 million of that coming from TIF money. South Loop School would have expanded boundaries, serving youngsters living downtown and in the South Loop south and east of the Chicago River and farther south to Cermak Road into what has been the NTA’s territory.

Opposition is strong, however. Since its unveiling, the plan has drawn fire at three public meetings from some NTA parents and staff, who noted that the 80% African American school has made impressive gains in recent years.

“Instead of shutting down National Teachers, they should be opening more schools like it,” local resident Hannah El-Amin said.

“It’s clear the top priority of the CPS is appeasing wealthy constituents at the expense of low-income residents, NTA school council chair Elizabeth Greer said.

Parents who live near NTA and have students enrolled there complained that South Loop would be farther away, while others with several children said getting all their kids to classes on time would be more difficult. Dowell said CPS is working on a transportation link between the two campuses.

“That way, regardless of which school the family is closer to, the appropriate school can be accessed easily,” she said.

Dowell noted accommodations already made by CPS show “the outreach effort was done in earnest and has resulted in real positive changes to the original Near South Community Plan.”

See www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dcd/supp_info/near_south_communityplan.html for the plan.

Dowell added, however, that CPS could do even better by looking at the possibility of extending the neighborhood boundaries of the new South Loop Elementary School south to I-55 (the Stevenson Expressway), writing a clear transition plan for students and their families that will “create a welcoming climate and culture at the South Loop Elementary School,” and ensuring students have continued access to existing Chicago Park District programs.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Dowell said. “I refuse to let it slip away. This proposal, unlike any other ideas pressed, solves the important issues for the children and families in my ward.”

—Patrick Butler