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New Schools 2009, Part 1 of 3: Corporate Sponsored Tech School to Open in Loop

Oct. 27, 2008 – Starting in fall 2009, high school students more interested in joining the robotics team than playing on a sports team will have a new school to attend in the Loop, Chicago's commercial and financial hub.

The Chicago Academy for Advanced Technology, one of 12 new schools unanimously approved by the Chicago Board of Education last  Wednesday, will admit 150 students citywide who are interested in careers in business technology.

More than 76 major U.S. companies, including Microsoft and IBM, have already signed on to support the Chicago Academy for Advanced Technology, offering to teach classes, make presentations and offer paid internships to students.

"There are few schools in Chicago that can rival our industry investment," said Matt Hancock, assistant director of the Center for Polytechnical Education, the non-profit corporation that will operate the new contract school.

This will be the second school the non-profit operates in Chicago. Last year, the center founded Austin Polytechnical Academy , which presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) recently praised.

"Austin Polytech is bringing hope back to the community," Obama said on a Sept. 9 campaign stop in Ohio. Obama said Austin's technology curriculum should be a national model as the U.S. moves to revive its technology industry.

Hancock of the Center for Polytechnical Education, agrees. The academy, he said, will teach students how "to be leaders in the global economy."

The key, Hancock said, is to combine the two existing Chicago Public Schools (CPS) educational models of college prep and vocational education. "Offering college prep without career prep," Hancock said of the two typical CPS high school curricula, "makes no sense. You need both."

Tamra Craig, an account manager at Nortel, another company supporting the new school, is excited about the possibilities of a technology-based high school located in the city laboratory of Chicago.

"It'll be easy to get to," said Craig, who hopes the school's location will attract many more industry employees.

"There are a number of good schools, like Whitney Young and Walter Payton," said Hancock, "that students already commute to from all over the city. Why not commute to the Loop?"

There are more than 75 elementary and high schools in Chicago that are not part of CPS. These include charter schools, performance schools and contract schools, which must first be approved by the Board of Education. More than 12,000 CPS students are currently on waiting lists for admissions to one of these non-CPS schools, almost four percent of the current CPS student population.

Proponents of charter schools say they offer teachers and administrators more flexibility to be creative with teaching methods.

"They're more adaptable to the community," said Christina Vera, director of communications of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

"Charters are more autonomous," said Vera, and "not subject to bureaucratic regulations."

It is this autonomy, Hancock said, which will shape the student body and staff of Chicago Academy of Advanced Technology. The school is less interested in a student's past academic performance, he said, and more interested in their creative drive.

Admission to the Chicago Academy of Advanced Technology is open to students of all academic backgrounds, but students of math and science schools, like Spencer Academy on the West Side, will be given preference.

The Center for Polytechnical Education is nearing a deal for a Loop location for the school, Hancock said, and will most likely announce it next week. He said a principal has been hired, but declined to release her name, saying she has a "strong track record" from a high-profile New York City high school.

Each year the school will admit 150 new students with a four-year cap of 600. More than 400 CPS students are expected to apply before the 2009 school year.

Click here to read part two of this three-part series.

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