Teachers and staff at Hancock College Preparatory High School learned Wednesday that their Southwest Side school is expected to turn from an ordinary neighborhood high school within Chicago Public Schools that educates mostly poor Hispanic students to a competitive test-in selective enrollment high school.
Hancock, 4034 W. 56th St., will transform a grade at a time beginning in the fall of 2015, CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said Wednesday. The school will no longer guarantee any of its seats to neighborhood children, about 95 percent of whom are Hispanic and 97 percent low-income, according to CPS.
“We have heard from families in southwest side neighborhoods asking for more access to a selective enrollment program and an enriching (career technical education) program, and we are delivering on that request while continuing to expand high-quality education options for students and families across the city,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a press release that also, unusually, included quotes from Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, whose district encompasses Hancock.
Apparently the decision, which was received around Hancock with mixed results Wednesday, was made without any public hearings.
Hancock is projected to need $10 million for the transformation, and that will be funded with state money. Five months ago, Emanuel announced plans to use $60 million in tax-increment financing money to build Chicago’s 11th selective enrollment high school and name it after President Barack Obama.
Plans to build the new school on the Near North Side in the shadows of a soon-to-be-expanded Walter Payton College Prep had blindsided Ald. Marty Quinn (13th), who had been lobbying for a selective enrollment high school on the Southwest Side.
Now, Hancock will become Chicago’s 11th selective enrollment high school. And because there’s no need for new construction, it will cost less and be up and running long before the new North Side high school is built — and given a new name.
That solves a political problem for Emanuel and could strengthen the mayor’s appeal to Southwest Side voters.
The 13th Ward is home to scores of police officers and firefighters, who do not like Emanuel.
Firefighters have ratified their new contract with the city. Police officers are about to vote on their tentative agreement.
But both memberships are angry about the long wait for back pay. Police officers are equally upset about the mayor’s failure to honor his campaign promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers.
Firefighters have yet another beef with the mayor: a CPS hiring preference that will apply to Chicago’s first firefighters entrance exam in nearly a decade. That could make it difficult for the children of firefighters, many of whom attend parochial schools, to follow in their fathers’ footsteps.
Ald. Quinn could not be reached for comment on the new school, but he told the Chicago Sun-Times in April that he feared losing his middle-class families to suburban Oak Lawn and Summit. Measuring public transportation commutes from his office, 6500 S. Pulaski, to most of the schools where students test in, he found travel times of up to an hour and 43 minutes each way.
“For whatever reason, parents of eighth-grade students don’t feel like there’s enough options, quality options, and therefore are putting a for sale sign in the ground and looking to the suburbs,” Quinn said at the time.
McCaffrey said Hancock was chosen as the location because the neighborhood kids are farthest from any other selective enrollment high schools. The school has a relatively small boundary, so making changes there is less disruptive than converting others nearby, he said.
“In terms of community consultation, we clearly heard from the community and elected officials that they wanted a SEHS on the Far Southwest Side,” McCaffrey said in an email. “We will be holding a community hearing to gauge reaction to this proposal prior to the board vote” expected later this month.
Meanwhile, CPS said it is already accepting applications for both new proposed Hancock programs.
On Wednesday afternoon, a group of students skateboarding outside Hancock said Principal Karen Boran made the announcement during the school day and sent a note home to parents about a parent night planned to “discuss the benefits of these programs and address any concerns.”
Jesse Delgado, a 16-year-old junior, said he feels bad for kids who counted on going to Hancock, but now won’t be able to. Other schools in the area are overcrowded, he said.
“I felt bad for the kids who live in the area,” Delgado said. “Some of them might not have the same chances they would have had.”
Jesus Patino, a senior, said the selective-enrollment status will create haves and have-nots at an already good school. He said Hancock should be open to everyone in the neighborhood.
“I think all kids deserve the same opportunity as someone who goes to [a] select enrollment” school, said Patino, 17. “It won’t affect me, but it will affect the community. They will get more money and better things just because they are ‘smarter’ students.”
Art teacher Matt Bozik, who has been at the school since 2001, said he was cautiously optimistic about the upcoming change.
“It’s still new to me. I’m still not sure how to feel about it,” Bozik said. “I feel like I’m part of the community and I love it here. Obviously, I want access for our students in the area. And I want to see how [the change] plays out.”
English teacher Natalie Garfield said the school performs well — which may have played a role in its selection.
“They weren’t going to put a bunch of resources into a school where they didn’t have some level of confidence that it would work out well,“ Garfield said.
Ultimately, she thinks the change will be good. But she added, “parts of us . . . are sad about not having all of our neighborhood kids come to the school. We all feel that way. We feel a loss that we are not going to be able to accommodate our neighborhood kids.”
During an evening Local School Council meeting, Boran addressed the change coming to Hancock. While rumors that it would become a selective enrollment school have percolated, nothing was confirmed until Tuesday morning when she was notified of the proposed change.
“With every change there’s a loss,” Boran told members of the council. “You have to give something up to get something.
“There’s a loss that we’re all going to feel as this rolls out. And all of us are going to experience that loss in different ways,” she said.
“There’s gains too,” she continued. “This community desperately needs access to selective enrollment. It isn’t fair that parents should have to put their sons and daughters on two buses and an L, and for the kids to take 90 minutes to get to school and 90 minutes to come home.”
Hancock currently has about 920 students enrolled, according to CPS. All will be permitted to finish while the other programs grow a grade at a time.
Like Jones College Prep High School in the South Loop, it will admit some of its students using a competitive academic entrance exam and give preference for the rest of its seats to area children who don’t test in, McCaffrey said. Those children — who would feed into Solorio, Curie, Hubbard, Hancock, Kennedy, Bogan and Gage Park high schools — can still apply for a separate academic program focusing on pre-law and pre-engineering classes, he said.
In Hancock’s case, it’s a 50-50 split with 205 total freshmen. The school will eventually serve 840 students, about 80 fewer than are currently enrolled, according to Hancock’s website.
About half of eighth-graders who live in Hancock’s current boundary will be routed to Curie, 4959 S. Archer Ave., and the other half to Hubbard, 6200 S. Hamlin. There also are two UNO Charter High Schools within 2 miles of Hancock.