Could new CPS ratings halt South Loop H.S., save National Teachers Academy?

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Parents and supporters of National Teachers Academy Elementary School protest outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Ravenswood neighborhood home to decry a proposal to turn the South Loop school into a high school, last year. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

New Chicago Public Schools ratings released Friday are threatening to derail a controversial plan to open a high school at the South Loop site of a top-performing elementary that would be shuttered under the plan.

CPS officials have assured parents for years that they wouldn’t close a school unless its students were guaranteed a place in a higher-performing school. National Teachers Academy parents were told the same when they were assigned to South Loop Elementary as NTA closes to make way for a new high school in the booming South Loop.

Related: CPS enrollment drops again

But the updated ratings unveiled Friday show that South Loop Elementary has fallen a level according to the School Quality Ratings Policy — from the top rating, Level 1+, to Level 1, while NTA remained at Level 1+.

NTA’s parents, who’ve waged a fierce battle against the closing at public hearings and through a lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court, hope the news saves their school from a closing one grade at a time as the proposed new high school welcomes its freshman class in September.

“This is the standards CPS has set in place, and by their own standard, they’re not playing by their own rules now,” said Beth Van Opstal, a parent of two NTA students. “So this becomes an illegal boundary change or an assignment of kids. It’s a huge deal for NTA.”

She said that during one of the court hearings, CPS attorneys justified the merger of the schools, then both with Level 1+ ratings, by showing that South Loop had more underlying points.

The guidelines that CPS officials currently are considering for future school actions of the schools they manage — including mergers or closings — to be announced by Dec. 1, also state: “The CEO may propose a consolidation or closure only if the students impacted by a consolidation or closure will be provided the option to enroll in a higher performing school, whether designated as a welcoming school or otherwise.”

District spokesman Michael Passman said officials have no plans to change course.

“South Loop is a proven school that remains in good academic standing, and school leadership are working to ensure the school returns to the Level 1+ status it has earned in every previous school year,” he said in an email. “The decision to transition NTA to a high school was made in February following extensive community engagement and in compliance with all legal requirements. As the transition moves forward, we will continue to meet all legal requirements and work closely with the NTA and South Loop communities to promote a successful transition that benefits all students.

All school ratings released

Although South Loop Elementary dropped, it remains in good standing. CPS said district-wide, some 398 schools are also in good standing, an increase from last year. Another 66 schools will receive provisional support and 57 will receive intensive support, the district said. And low ratings for some privately-managed charter schools could lead to their closure.

South Loop Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) has championed the new high school and resulting elementary school merger, saying her constituents in and around Chinatown have longed for a quality open-enrollment high school in their own neighborhood.

“This is the first year that South Loop has not been a Level 1+ school, and we are confident this year’s rating will be a blip on the radar when we look back on this. … As the transition nears, we will continue to work closely with the NTA and South Loop communities to ensure students and staff have the support they need to reach their potential,” she said Friday, echoing CPS’ language.

Charters could close

Along with the ratings, CPS also named three privately-managed schools it could close in June based on poor performance in recent years: the elementary schools Kwame Nkrumah Academy on the Far South Side and Plato Learning Academy on the West Side, and the high school, Urban Prep Charter Academy’s West campus.

Five more charter schools have been added to CPS’ warning list, meaning if they don’t show enough improvement during this school year, they could be closed. They are Acero’s Paz campus, Chicago Collegiate, Frazier Charter School, Montessori School of Englewood and Chicago Virtual Charter School.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools did not object to any of the names, saying in a statement that “INCS has a firm commitment on quality, partnering with member schools to ensure that the charter school movement lives up to its promise of improving student performance.”

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