Trying to alleviate the pressure on families to get their kids a good high school education, three North Side Chicago aldermen will announce a new coalition Saturday, the first-ever regional education partnership tailor-made to change both the perception and reality of neighborhood high schools.
Aldermen Ameya Pawar (47th), Pat O’Connor (40th) and Tom Tunney (44th) will join forces at Amundsen High School in Lincoln Square at 10 a.m. Saturday to attract more resources to it and to Lake View High School. The three men want North Side families otherwise fleeing to the suburbs to consider both open-enrollment, secondary schools as viable options to elite test-in selective enrollment schools.
“We need to break down the myth that there are only 10 good high schools in the city,” Pawar said. “You can build 10 more selective enrollment high schools and you still won’t be able to keep up with demand.”
Kids have to score near perfectly on the entrance exam to get into the coveted North Side College Prep or Walter Payton College Prep, and that’s a ton of pressure on young teenagers. The admissions process leaves even less room for error for the many families in his ward who fall in the top economic tier than for kids in lower tiers.
In coming weeks, the letters announcing who’s been accepted into the selective schools “will trigger a new round of hand-wringing by parents and students,” Pawar said. “Every year, it’s getting even more difficult.”
Selective-enrollment high schools, which had room last year for about 3,500 total students of the 18,000 who applied, have received major investments in recent years. Walter Payton College Prep is getting 300 more spots through a $17 million expansion, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in September 2013, and Hancock High School on the Southwest Side will become a test-in school this fall, no longer accepting any child from the surrounding neighborhood. Emanuel also announced plans to build a new $60 million high school on the Near North Side that was supposed to be named for President Barack Obama but won’t be now because CPS doesn’t allow naming schools for people who are still alive.
Pawar, O’Connor and Tunney plan to raise money and direct as much tax-increment-financing money as they can for the high schools into which elementary schools from their wards feed directly.
“My ultimate goal is to give parents in the city what they seek in the suburbs — a stable K-12 system,” Pawar said. “Amundsen and Lake View are fantastic schools, but we need to change the perception of neighborhood schools.”
Lake View, 4015 N. Ashland Ave., has a STEM program geared toward science, technology, engineering and math, but the gym and other facilities need work. Amundsen, 5110 N. Damen Ave., has an International Baccalaureate program, but it serves only a small percentage of the school’s 1,100 enrolled students.
Expanding that program would improve the school, said O’Connor, former chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader.
“It really will be an opportunity for us to work with local principals and parents of current students and those we hope to attract from feeder schools,” he said.
Tunney serves as chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development. He could not be reached Friday for comment.
O’Connor already organized around Mather High School, 5835 N. Lincoln Ave., and brought some $30 million in capital to Mather.
By working collectively with all the feeder schools for Amundsen and Lake View, the wards can pool their resources “to ensure that offerings and infrastructure are such that people will begin to look at these places . . . as truly a fine option and not necessarily a second option but in some cases the first option for neighborhood children,” O’Connor said.
“We’re not focusing on ward boundaries,” O’Connor continued. “We’re focusing on children in feeder schools in three wards. That allows us to speak with one voice. We hope that will command a broader listening audience at the schools, the donor level, the grant level and all of those different opportunities. We’re hoping it will mean more money, more program offerings.”