South Loop residents are calling for the Chicago Public Schools to create a Central City High School that would serve the South Loop and neighboring communities.
The new school could be housed in the old Jones College Prep building, which is being replaced by a new $150 million facility scheduled to open in the fall. The current Jones College Prep is located at Harrison and State streets.
“Demographics are changing, and now we need a school,” said Jeanette Johnson, vice president of the Greater South Loop Association.
Some residents and community leaders have also suggested building an entirely new school.
Under this plan, the new high school would enroll students from South Loop Elementary School, Galileo Math and Science Academy, Skinner West Elementary School, Smyth Elementary School, Andrew Jackson Elementary School, Washington Irving Elementary School and STEM Magnet Academy.
The proposed Central City High School would accept only students who attended an elementary school within the district regardless of whether the students lived in the proposed district, said Dennis O’Neill, executive director of Connecting 4 Communities, a neighborhood group representing Little Italy, University Village & Commons, Roosevelt Square & Brooks Homes and Tri-Taylor.
The current Jones Prep High School holds about 900 students. O’Neill said CPS would need to expand the high school to accommodate the district’s students.
“We want to negotiate a plan so that all students can be accommodated,” O’Neill said. “We’re going to keep working with the community to get input from parents and CPS teachers. We’ll continue talking to the Chicago Board of Education.”
According to Connecting 4 Communities, the population of the South Loop and other neighborhoods has grown by 104 percent over the past decade.
“We asked CPS to plan for future education,” said O’Neill. “We tried to get to [CPS], but they ignored us. They ignored the community.”
Spokesmen from other groups also called on CPS to work more closely with residents.
“CPS hasn’t taken the initiative. Now the community is taking action,” said Johnson.
CPS has not announced plans to construct a new high school.
“We are aware there is an interest in a new central high school; however, there are no formal discussions under way at this time,” said Robyn Ziegler, director of Chicago Public Schools media affairs in an email statement.
“CPS officials are carefully studying what to do with the old Jones College Prep building once the school moves to its new structure,” Ziegler said. “As the district faces a $1 billion deficit next fiscal year, we want to make sure any decisions around the use of our facilities are made in the best interest of our students and their learning.”
Although the current Jones Prep building holds nearly 900 students, Connecting 4 Communities said it will be large enough to accommodate South Loop area students and the neighboring communities.
“Part of the negotiations would be adequate space for future accommodation,” O’Neill said. “Size needs to be negotiated, so [the school] is large enough for growth and athletic fields.”
O’Neill also said an auditorium and the curriculum at any new school would be negotiated. Funding for the new school could come from the area’s Tax Increment Fund, or TIF, because the area pays high property taxes.
According to the Chicago Reader, CPS spent $50 million renovating the old Jones Prep building, and the students returned in 2002. Questions remain about why CPS cannot use the old Jones Prep building as a neighborhood school.
According to Connecting 4 Communities, Chicago’s population has declined by more than 3 percent in the past decade. “People with kids are moving to the suburbs,” Johnson said. “Having a good high school is important to increase property values and keep our residents.”
O’Neill asked why the school district would not spend money in an area that’s growing.
Although students must pass the entrance exam to enroll, the new Jones Prep will have only limited space for local high school students, but there is not enough to accommodate all of them, Johnson said.
South Loop high school students now attend Jones Prep High School, Ogden International High School, Phillips Academy High School and Wells Community High School.
With the exception of Jones Prep, the other high school students are performing either below or far below standards, according to Chicago Public Schools.
“We want to make sure that all students in this area have access to quality education and economic opportunity,” O’Neill said.
He said upcoming meetings on the school have not been scheduled, but Connecting 4 Communities will hold meetings in the South Loop and West Loop to further discuss the plans for a central city high school.
“We’re gonna keep working with the community to get input from parents and CPS teachers,” O’Neill said. “We’ll continue talking with the Chicago Board of Education.”
According to O’Neill, the community has been trying to prepare for population growth in the South Loop, but CPS has ignored community concerns.
O’Neill said, “Instead of being dictated to, we want [CPS] to work with us.”
- Mayor Emanuel and CPS CEO Byrd-Bennett Announce Major Expansion Plan for Jones College Prep(cityofchicago.org)