NTA to remain open; South Loop needs high school
March 1, 2019

The National Teachers Academy (NTA) will remain an elementary school, and its student body will not merge with the nearby South Loop Elementary School. A regional center for gifted students will stay at NTA and not transition to South Loop. The school district also will undo changes it made to surrounding school attendance boundaries as part of the planned merger.

So what happens now? “I am not positive, but I assume the school continues with normal operations,” said Sarah Rothschild, education policy analyst, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). “The plans for housing development in the area will result in increased need for elementary seats, so both schools should be pretty full pretty soon.”

Rothschild added that NTA likely will embark on a marketing campaign to attract more students. “They did a fantastic job in the fight to stay open and really showed the school as a wonderful place for all students, which is so rare in Chicago,” she said. “CPS needs to learn from this fight and work with communities to invest in neighborhood schools. Rothschild added CPS must reconsider its definition of “community” to include students and parents, rather than homeowner associations and chambers of commerce.

“The NTA—its students, parents, faculty and administration—have built a wonderful community and deserve their 1+ rating,” said Debbie Liu, community development coordinator for Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC). “CBCAC will continue to work with our neighboring communities and CPS for a long-term solution that is inclusive, transparent, equitable, and community driven.”

According to David Wu, CBCAC education committee chair, the Chinese-American community has been calling for a neighborhood school option for Armour Square/Chinatown and Bridgeport. “Since this area was primarily Catholic, and families sent their children to parochial school, a neighborhood high school was never built in this area,” he said. “But the demographics have changed, and a high school closer to the community is needed. We are advocating that any new capital funds address the needs of the Near South communities of Armour Square, Bridgeport, South Loop, and North Bronzeville.

Wu added that representatives from Chinatown attended a January 23 Board of Education meeting. “We urged CPS and the BOE to consider allocating funds for a high school in the upcoming budget and to prioritize a high school in any wish list to Governor JB Pritzker, who hopes to have a capital bill in the future,” Wu said.

CTU’s Rothschild said she does not know if CPS will build a new high school. “They refuse to follow State rules and don’t actually plan for school construction,” she said, adding many CPS projects in the one-year capital improvement plan don’t come to fruition while others get developed spontaneously. “This is 100% an issue of responding to the desires of wealthy and/or politically connected residents,” she said. 

At the same time, the area’s existing high schools need programmatic and capital improvement investments, said Rothschild. “I feel like CPS is holding the severely under-enrolled schools hostage,” she added. “It certainly isn’t doing anything to help boost enrollment, even though the district has been saying for years that it knows the schools need help.

“It takes years of hard work and positive marketing for schools to turn themselves around and lure in the new residents,” she said. “Amundsen is a good example.”

According to Rothschild, high schools such as Tilden, Dunbar, and others in the area serve the most disadvantaged children in Chicago and need substantial support and programming. “This is completely doable within the confines of the budget or with any number of additional supports from philanthropy, the State, or the Feds,” she said. “We know these schools have high mobility rates, high homeless rates, low attendance rates, and it is often difficult to get the parents involved. This is not rocket science—we know what works and what doesn’t.”

Rothschild said CPS should help these schools forge the partnerships they need to provide strategic supports for the students and families who need it. How?  “Hire way more clinicians—social workers, nurses, psychologists, etc.—more counselors, more academic support staff like reading and math specialists, while also bringing in attractive academic programs,” she said. “All of these schools can be naturally improved without displacing any students.” 

  —Eva Hoffman