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Proposed charter school relocation to Albany Park sparks controversy among teachers, families, administrators

Dozens gathered near Roosevelt High School on Tuesday to push back on a proposal to move a charter high school to the neighborhood.

Parents, teachers, students and community members protest Tuesday at Jensen Park over a proposal to relocate ASPIRA Early College High School.
Parents, teachers, students and community members protest Tuesday at Jensen Park over a proposal to relocate ASPIRA Early College High School.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A charter school network looking to move its high school from Avondale to Albany Park has ignited controversy between the charter network and surrounding schools in Albany Park.

ASPIRA Early College High School has proposed a move beginning in the fall from 3986 W. Barry Ave. to 3729 W. Leland Ave., blocks from Theodore Roosevelt High School, 3436 W. Wilson Ave. This move would place the charter school in the same building as its feeder school, ASPIRA Haugan Middle School.

ASPIRA CEO Fernando E. Grillo said students initiated the move two years ago, telling administrators the facility could no longer accommodate their needs. ASPIRA applied to relocate the high school in February and is waiting on a decision from the Chicago Public Schools Board.

Brenda Leyva, a senior and local school representative at Roosevelt High School, speaks Tuesday at Jensen Park about the proposal to relocate ASPIRA Early College High School.
Brenda Leyva, a senior and local school representative at Roosevelt High School, speaks Tuesday at Jensen Park about the proposal to relocate ASPIRA Early College High School.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

But some local politicians, as well as parents, students and teachers at nearly 100-year-old Roosevelt strongly oppose the move, worrying it will cause a decrease in enrollment and funding at the high school. Dozens gathered at a park near the schools Tuesday to oppose the proposed move.

Jim McIntosh, a teacher who has been at Roosevelt for 17 years, said at the event Tuesday the school has worked to overcome an “external perception of what goes on there.” He said it’s been on an upward trend in recent years.

“We’re now at the highest level we’ve been,” said McIntosh, who teaches civics. “We want a little bit more help. For all the time we’ve worked, to drop [ASPIRA] here, even if it’s just going to cost us a little bit of enrollment ... we’re already stretched thin.”

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd), in whose ward Roosevelt sits, said she’s “very concerned” about placing a “competing” high school in the same area.

“I think that it’s really unfortunate that we are in a situation where it seems like we are putting schools at odds with one another, that we are making them compete for enrollment,” Rodriguez Sanchez said.

Grillo said the charter school isn’t planning on expanding, only relocating. He cited Chicago Public Schools data that shows 2,800 students live within Roosevelt’s boundary. Of the 2,800, only 26 percent choose Roosevelt for high school.

Attendees of the event Tuesday also included parents, students and teachers from North River Elementary School in East Albany Park. The elementary school has been using a church as its building, and there has been discussion of a possible move to ASPIRA Haugan Middle School’s building in recent years.

Many people in attendance pushed back on the proposal to move ASPIRA Early College High School into the building with ASPIRA Haugan Middle School, arguing North River needs the facilities more.

John Atchison, a physical education and health teacher at North River, told the crowd the building only has two bathrooms, few classrooms and no outdoor field space. On days when weather permits, the students use the teacher’s parking lot as a place to play, near broken glass and trash-filled dumpsters.

Parents, teachers, students and community members protest Tuesday at Jensen Park over the proposal to relocate ASPIRA Early College High School.
Parents, teachers, students and community members protest Tuesday at Jensen Park over the proposal to relocate ASPIRA Early College High School.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Because the school is in a church, there are some days where students have to be quiet during PE and recess due to funeral services upstairs, several speakers told the crowd.

“North River is in a building that is grossly inadequate for the number of students they have and for the facilities that they have,” Rodriguez Sanchez said. “... All kids deserve the absolute best resources. They just cannot come at the expense of another school.”

But Grillo said ASPIRA also needs better facilities for its students, many of whom live in the area. Grillo said students have had to take PE classes at a Planet Fitness across the street.

“We believe that our kids deserve the same quality of facilities as we see in some of the other schools in the city,” Grillo said. “... There’s room for both of us to coexist, our kids attend both schools. We serve the same demographic. It’s not an either/or situation.”