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Alderman, principals critical of proposed Noble school move

Ald. James Cappleman criticized a proposal to move a Noble charter school to his Uptown ward. | Sun-Times file photo

Backed by North Side high school principals and parents on Thursday, Uptown’s alderman denounced the proposed move of a Noble Network Charter School to his ward, saying it would “suck the lifeblood from our neighborhood high schools.”

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) is one of at least 11 elected officials who have come out against the proposed move of a Noble campus from its temporary location in the Loop to the former Immaculata High School building at Irving Park Road and Lake Shore Drive.

“The addition of a charter school in this area will weaken our five great neighborhood high schools, which have already faced major budget cuts this year,” Cappleman told a CPS hearing officer Thursday, joined by principals of Senn, Sullivan and Amundsen high schools, as well as parents from feeder grade schools. Several of those schools’ Local School Councils have passed resolutions opposing the charter’s presence.

“My message to the CPS board is this: Allowing this charter school to locate to Uptown will harm the current schools we have,” Cappleman said. “Uptown and Lake View say ‘no’ to Noble and ‘no’ to charter schools, which would suck the lifeblood from our neighborhood high schools.”

No action was taken at Thursday’s hearing, which was held to gather testimony. The Board of Education is supposed to vote Wednesday on proposals from Noble and other charter operators looking to make changes. It will cast its vote at a time when CPS faces a $1.1 budget deficit and has threatened schools with classroom cuts if Springfield doesn’t solve the district’s pension woes.

That means that this year, more than ever, schools are competing for very limited resources.

So with a fixed-dollar amount now attached to each CPS student, even the loss of five to 10 students hurts a school, said Susan Lofton, principal of Senn, which has increased its enrollment and its academic performance in recent years.

High schools including Lakeview, Uplift and Sullivan had parents buy in with volunteer hours and fundraisers to fill gaps CPS couldn’t pay for. Plus, the area’s CPS high schools still have plenty of capacity, she said.

“If you open up this charter school, it will hurt Uplift students,” said student Marques Strong, 16, who transferred from a Noble school after being labeled — unfairly, he said — as a discipline problem. “It will hurt enrollment and resources.”

The Noble Academy wants to move to 640 W. Irving Park “to better support the academic needs of our students,” said Angelica Alfaro, a Noble official, who added that the temporary location at 17 N. State is too small for its faculty and students.

And Noble Academy’s principal, Pablo Sierra, said that the school is “about a quality open enrollment choice for all families of Chicago. Certainly Noble Academy students here today . . . are no less deserving of a permanent home than those at Lakeview, Amundsen or Senn.”

Noble told CPS in writing that its new potential location — 5 miles from the nearest Noble school — “will bring a Noble education to many North Side communities and give families a local option that is easily accessible through public transportation. Further, the location and model of the school support a diverse student population that will draw students from a variety of ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, bridging previously insular groups.”

Several Noble grads and current parents also testified on behalf of the charter operator, saying the charter got them to college.

But no one’s denying the good work Noble does, said John Evans, an Amundsen teacher.

“I think more than anything, we’re trying to stand up for our own successes,” he said.

“Every year we are hit with more and more budget constraints. We lose more and more teachers. We lose more and more programs . . . and yet with all that in our faces, we continue to send our kids to college. “All we want is to keep doing what we’re doing.”