Beleaguered Concept Charter finds new school site in Chatham

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Concept Schools, which lost out on a new school site in Chatham after the charter network was raided by the FBI, has found another location and is proceeding with a fall 2014 opening for two more Horizon Science Academy schools, according to Chicago Public Schools.

The district plans to recommend the site of the former Evangelical Christian School for approval to the Board of Education on August 27— potentially after students report for their first day — despite an ongoing federal investigation into their leaders and key contractors, district spokesman Joel Hood said.

Search warrants, obtained by the Sun-Times from the June 4 raids of the Des Plaines headquarters — one of 19 Concept sites raided in Illinois and two other states — revealed that federal authorities are focusing on many top administrators and companies with close ties to the charter operators, who are linked to the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen currently living in Pennsylvania.

Hood said Concept officials shared the news of the new Chatham site last week at a public meeting. He said Concept committed to investing $250,000 in improvements to the facility, 9130 S. Vincennes, which as a former school already has classrooms and a cafeteria. At 1.8 miles from the old site, 8522 S. Lafayette Ave., the new location would keep the school in the same neighborhood.

In January, CPS officials gave a conditional approval to Concept’s proposal for one new school in Chatham, and another at 5401 S. Western, saying they wanted to know more about the schools’ principals and facilities.

The charter chain had planned to spend more than $528,000 of CPS funding to rent the Chatham space from an arm of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, whose pastor, Charles Jenkins, gave the invocation at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 inauguration and was part of the mayor’s transition team.

Construction on the Western site is complete, Hood said. Brian Moriarty, vice president of corporate communications for EPR Properties, which owns that property said, “We are aware of the investigation and at this point, we have no reason not to move forward. This is simply an investigation at this point.”

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), whose ward includes the proposed Chatham charter, said he would have preferred “more clarity” on where the federal investigation of Concept Schools was headed before the school was allowed to open.

“I have not been able to get any answers about what would happen if the school or certain officials in the organization are indicted and what that means for the kids,” the alderman said Thursday. “That said, I don’t know that there’s anything I can do to stop them. That location is already a school.”

Brookins noted that there are 450 students who are relying on the school to open this fall, saying, “The kids and parents are in the middle of this thing.”

It’s not clear when students would report for their first day, which at Concept’s flagstone school, Chicago Math and Science Academy, 7212 N. Clark St., is Aug. 18, and at both HSA McKinley Park Charter School and HSA Belmont Charter School, is August 25, according to school websites.

At the Board’s July 23 meeting, CPS mom and CTU organizer Shoneice Reynolds said that other schools in the 21st Ward have plenty of space and not enough money.

“Our schools within the 21st Ward are already starving. Out of the 15 schools, seven schools have no art, nine schools do not have music, 12 of those schools do not have either a librarian or a library and 14 of those schools do not have a computer tech teacher,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds then asked the board to sign a pledge against giving more money to Concept while it’s under investigation. The next speaker was called before anyone gave her an answer.

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