The line of approximately 3,500 people stretched around the block in Chicago’s South Loop. The wait lasted for two hours as parents and potential students tried to get inside of Jones College Prep High School.
They were not there to just see the school. They were standing in line for one of the best high school educations in the country.
Jones College Prep, located at 606 S. State St., is recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the best high schools in the country. Jones graduates 99 percent of its senior class, compared to just 50 percent of Chicago Public Schools as a whole.
Jones has a diverse student body: 30 percent Hispanic, 25 percent white, 25 percent black, and 14 percent Asian-American and the highest percentage of low income (free/reduced lunch) students among the top performing schools according to Principal Powers. Jones would rank second to Lane Tech when it comes to low income students who are top-performers academically. (See links regarding Jones relative to other CPS high schools at the end of the article.)
“We help to make sure our kids really appreciate diversity,” said Jones College Prep Principal Dr. Paul Powers. “We provide a safe, secure environment where kids from many backgrounds can come together and succeed.”
Powers said one of his biggest initiatives at Jones is building relationships. Jones has a summer program, Freshman Connection, for incoming students to help them prepare for their first day of classes.
Jones also has a program to take students to visit colleges campuses. Some of the schools recent graduates have attended are the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Hampton, a historically black university in Virginia.
Jones has a student body enrollment of 850, and incoming freshman students occupy approximately 200 of these spots. With the long line to get inside, many students will have to look elsewhere to get their high school education.
“I believe our school is particularly attractive due to the size and its location in the South Loop,” said Powers. “We have students coming from all over Chicago to attend Jones.”
The school also actively recruits students to attend Jones. Staff visits more than 150 elementary schools each year.
“I was sold when I talked to the staff and was told that they want every child to succeed and they are there to help make that happen,” said Local School Council member and parent Pamela Holtzman. “We wanted a diverse environment for our daughter’s high school experience. Her grade school was that way, Chicago is that way, the world is that way.”
However, Jones College Prep wasn’t always the school it is known today. It started out as a school for business.
“The transition actually went from Jones Commercial, to Jones Metropolitan (1982), to Jones Academic Magnet (1997) and finally Jones College Prep in 2001,” said English teacher Christine Malebranche. “It was a very exciting time: Teachers were re-interviewed for their positions, those who were chosen to work with the new program received extensive professional development, curricula were developed, and an atmosphere of collegiality existed that was unique to the situation.”
According to the Jones website, this evolution represents changes in educational trends and demographics in Chicago’s South Loop.
Malebranche said every day at Jones is a unique experience. She attributed this to the students and programs available at Jones.
“Classes start as early as 7 a.m. and it is not unusual for students to be in after-school activities until 6 p.m. that evening,” said Malebranche.
Although Jones is still a high school, Malebranche acknowledged it isn’t like anywhere else.
“Those of us who have been at Jones in its many incarnations have a saying: ‘We are Jones,'” said Malebranche. “We’ve always been a different kind of school, have always had our own style, and have always been able to be proud of being a part of a school with a long and proud history.”
Related research on Jones’ standing: