James Sullivan is 10, and he’s smart.
At Blaine Elementary School in Lake View, the boy began learning 6th-grade level math in 4th grade.
But with high school inching closer, his mother is already starting to worry about what high school he’ll go to.
“Lake View [High School] is walking distance to our house. The idea of selective enrollment stresses us all out, so we’re hoping that we don’t have to count on that,” Abby Sullivan, a Blaine local school council member said Saturday inside a packed Amundsen High School library.
That mounting pressure is part of why North Side aldermen Tom Tunney (44th), Ameya Pawar (47th) and Pat O’Connor (40th) gathered more than a hundred community members and parents to talk about the importance of neighborhood high schools, including Amundsen and Lake View.
The aldermen announced they’re teaming up to change the perception of the neighborhood schools, and 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.
At Saturday’s meeting, parents and children from at least 10 schools spread between their three wards came to listen to the plans.
“Ameya, Tom and I, we’re hoping that this is going to be a program that will really help our community move forward in a way that will provide true options, not a first option, not a second option, an additional option for you as parents to make choices on where your children will attend school,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said the three aldermen will go to the Chicago Board of Education, the state and the city for resources.
“It’s a matter of going to the city when we’re looking for city resources in the manner of TIFs or other things and saying this is good for our community, not respecting ward boundaries but really looking at school boundaries and school access.”
“We know by the fifth grade that parents are really stressing out about what their high school options are,” Tunney said.
Tunney said he hopes to have both Amundsen and Lake View high schools be “the choice,” not the second choice for their high school education.
“Education is the number one issue in our ward and I believe firmly that this is the mantra, the roadmap, of how we can keep our families in our schools,” Tunney said.
Payar said he was a “terrible” student in high school but still succeeded – getting a master’s degree from the University of Chicago. He said he finds it hard to believe that one test can determine whether you get into the “right” high school and into the “right” college.
The perception some Chicago parents feel about there being only certain high schools for their children to attend is taking away from the chances for neighborhood schools to succeed, Pawar said.
“There are opportunities for everyone and just because you don’t get into a selective enrollment doesn’t mean that you have to move or that you somehow are a step behind everyone else,” Pawar said.
“The longer we perpetuate a system where we have to clump the best of the best kids in the third largest city into 10 schools, the more stressful your life is going to become.”
Chicago’s selective-enrollment high schools had room for about 3,500 total students of the 18,000 who applied last year. Letters announcing who has been accepted this year will be sent in the coming weeks.
Carina Rivera, a sophomore at Amundsen, told the group of her struggles to get into Lane Technical High School, a selective enrollment school. She said she felt pressure from her parents to get in because her brother attended.
“I had high hopes because I had straight A’s. I took the test. I did everything and I didn’t get in. I felt devastated. I felt a sense of maybe I couldn’t accomplish much,” Rivera said.
Instead, Rivera went to Amundsen, where she is excelling in the International Baccalaureate program.
“Everyone is different and everyone has their own story. Look where I am now,” Rivera said. “…Now I actually have the support and the foundation that if I fall, I have hope.”