Englewood’s new high school didn’t come without controversy, and it didn’t come without some anger and pain.
But on Tuesday, the community’s new $85 million neighborhood school, Englewood STEM High School, will welcome its first class of students — making it the first new school to open its doors in the South Side neighborhood since the 1970s.
“For parents, realizing that this is a neighborhood high school for the students of Englewood ... it’s major,” Principal Conrad Timbers-Ausar told reporters as they toured the new building last week. “It’s not a selective enrollment high school. It’s not a private school. The type of facility we have you usually don’t see in urban schools.”
The STEM high school — which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math curriculum — is brightly lit inside with plenty of windows, and white floors and walls with colorful accents. There are murals and inspirational writings on walls throughout the school.
“One of the things that we were really adamant about was the power of images, and how images play in how people see themselves,” Timbers-Ausar said. “There’s some images that we wanted to have as students and families come to the school that they can see themselves doing different things throughout the building.”
Among the features of the new building is a health clinic on the first floor that’s open to students, staff and the public. The school will serve grades 9-12 and was built at 6835 S. Normal on 17 acres of land where the campus of the shuttered Robeson High School sat.
Robeson was one of four schools — Harper, Hope and Team Englewood high schools the others — that the city’s school board unanimously voted to close in 2018, drawing the ire of community residents. Those were the last four neighborhood schools in Englewood, which meant students in the community have faced among the longest commutes in the city.
More than 400 students are registered to start the school year at Englewood STEM, up from initial CPS projections that placed 300 to 350 teens in the open-enrollment school’s first class. Almost all those students live in Englewood.
Exact numbers are certain to change after the year starts, but the current makeup of the school includes 87% low-income students and 22% diverse learners. And though the school’s new student body is almost entirely African American, 59% of teachers at the new school are black, while 100% of support staff is black.
Englewood STEM plans to offer basketball, volleyball, softball, track and field, soccer, lacrosse and football, but might not have teams for all those sports depending on student interest. The school has a “gymnatorium,” as Timbers-Ausar put it, that will serve as both a gym and auditorium and seats 800 students.
The school mascot drew inspiration from the 2018 movie blockbuster “Black Panther,” which resonated with students who saw themselves for maybe the first time in a black superhero portrayed on the big screen.
So when it came time to vote on a mascot, the choice was easy.
“They really wanted to embody what that really meant,” Timbers-Ausar said. “And so having the opportunity to create a new school — and that school coming into fruition — was like, hey, we need to be the Panthers. We should be the Panthers. And here we are, the Englewood Panthers.”