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Proposal to move charter school to Uptown put on hold by school board

Following public outcry, Chicago Public Schools yanked from Wednesday’s Board of Education vote a proposal to move a charter school to Uptown amid neighborhood high schools with room for more students.

And before sending dozens of other charter school changes to the board, CPS also announced a plan to codify how charters will be judged going forward.

CPS’ charter chief Jack Elsey said the district will meet this summer with New Schools for Chicago, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and other charter leaders to codify a definition of “high-performing” as well as a warning list for low performers going forward.

“A foundational commitment of the charter school idea was an inherent agreement that if a school does not perform, it should be closed,” Elsey said.

Board member Carlos Azcoitia pushed CPS further — to consider a citywide plan for all schools amid declining enrollment and tight budgets. He wanted to make sure other issues such as special education and expulsion rates were also part of charter renewals.

“We need here an equal playing field with quality models. That’s why we need to take a look at a system-wide strategy,” Azcoitia said.

All four board members at the meeting had to vote to pass items Wednesday, and the entire agenda did pass 4-0 — save proposals to move The Noble Academy to 640 W. Irving Park, and two other renewals.

CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the abrupt postponement of the controversial Noble vote stemmed from the consideration of community perspectives when making decisions.

“Given the amount of community feedback, the board will not consider actions for . . . Noble . . . today and will take more time to review the proposals and recommendations.”

The Noble Academy sought to move to an empty private school building at 640 W. Irving Park, saying it outgrew its temporary downtown space where the lease is ending.

North Side politicians, principals and parents had testified at a CPS public hearing and delivered letters to the mayor Tuesday to fight Noble’s relocation, saying CPS can’t afford another school when nearby schools have space, and that 900 new seats at Noble would skim money from Amundsen, Lake View, Sullivan, Uplift and Senn, which they’ve worked hard to support. The district faces a $1.1 billion deficit.

Noble principal Pablo Sierra implored the board to let his students move to Uptown, “contrary to the notion” that Noble’s entrance would affect its neighbors’ enrollment, saying, “Our students deserve a permanent location just like those at Lake View, Amundsen and Senn.”

But Amundsen’s Local School Council member Michael Cohen said Noble should have to prove its need in the area first.

“Any notion that this won’t affect enrollment in the area doesn’t add up,” he said. “They’re already recruiting in our feeder schools.”

All in all, 21 more charters were approved to move, add students or make other changes.

Despite past CPS and Board promises, Rowe Elementary Charter School will now move into the former Peabody Elementary School, which was shuttered during the mass 2013 closings.

Two Perspectives Charter School campuses will move from the old Calumet High School building into the new facility of a politically connected pastor at 8522 S. Lafayette, slated for a new Concept Charter School until that chain fell under federal investigation.

Thirteen more schools had operating charters renewed, though not all for five years.

Urban Prep’s Bronzeville campus was OK’d for five years, but its other two were shortened to just three years, according to CPS, for academic reasons. The entire charter chain also must meet certain financial conditions, though McCaffrey couldn’t explain them.

The United Neighborhood Organization Charter Schools voluntarily postponed opening new schools for another year, saying they’ll focus first on transitioning to new management. Intrinsic Charter School also asked for another year to open a second school. Catalyst Howland Charter School is voluntarily closing down next month.