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At South Side’s Julian High, budget cuts are latest blow

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–>That Julian High School tops the list of schools set to lose the most funding under the austerity budgets released last week by the Chicago Public Schools is just one more insult, students and parents at the Far South Side school say.

“Look at the football field,” Victor Davison Sr., a 1993 alum of the school, said as he watched his son Victor Jr., a junior, at football practice. “It doesn’t even have striping. They used to offer auto mechanics, wood shop. All those things are gone from the school. How can they talk about taking more funding? That’s crazy.”

Parents and students attending summer classes at the school at 10330 S. Elizabeth in the poverty- and gang-challenged Washington Heights neighborhood questioned why Julian is facing the loss of $1.8 million in its budget for the 2015-2016 school year — over a quarter of its budget during the just-ended school year.

But they also recognize that Julian is facing problems that go beyond the proposed funding cuts.

Last year, 879 students attended Julian. Enrollment for the year starting in September is projected at 688 — 191 fewer. That’s a loss in one year of nearly a quarter of the student population.

Academically, the school is in the bottom rung of Chicago high schools — what CPS calls “level 3” schools, with test scores far below the citywide average. It’s remained on intensive support the past 11 years.

Even so, graduation and college-enrollment rates — 63.9 percent and 51.9 percent respectively — are fairly comparable to CPS’ citywide rates of 69.4 percent and 58.1 percent.

Parents and students blamed the continuing erosion of students and funding in part on charter schools that have opened in the school’s attendance area.

They also pointed to the school’s inability to shake a reputation for violence since the 2007 killing of Julian student Blair Holt near the school. The 16-year-old honor student was killed on his way home from school on May 10, 2007, when a gang member fired multiple shots at another gang member on a Chicago Transit Authority bus a few blocks away. Four other students were wounded.

Lexis Eason, 17, holding young Riley Eason, says she didn't want "to come to this school because of its reputation" but ended up liking it. "This school is what you make it."  Brian Jackson / Sun-Times

Lexis Eason, 17, holding young Riley Eason, says she didn’t want “to come to this school because of its reputation” but ended up liking it. “This school is what you make it.” Brian Jackson / Sun-Times

“My freshman year, I really didn’t want to come to this school because of its reputation,” said 17-year-old senior Lexis Eason. “But I enrolled in one of the career and technical education program — radio and TV — and I really liked it. That’s what made me start looking at the school differently. This school is what you make it.”

Crystal Woods, 18, who graduated in May and is headed to Columbia College Chicago in the fall, has a similar view of Julian.

“My first three years here, there was always a lot of fights breaking out,” she said.

Crystal Woods just graduated from Julian High School.  Brian Jackson /  Sun-Times

Crystal Woods just graduated from Julian High School. Brian Jackson / Sun-Times

Still, Woods said, “I liked the school. It’s like a family here. I think it’s just some of the students that come here who cause problems, not the teachers and staff.

“But while I was here, enrollment kept going down, to the point where our radio and TV teachers asked us to help make TV ads for Julian to try to attract more students.”

New principal Myron Hester, who started just last week, was unavailable for comment on the impact of the funding cuts, which will leave Julian with a stringent $4.9 million budget this year.

The school’s longtime principal, Careda Taylor, retired last school year, and interim principal Donald Pittman’s last day was the Friday before the cuts were announced, according to Assistant Principal Abdul Muhammad, who otherwise would not comment.

Julian is among nine high schools serving the Far South Side. It’s rated strong in the arts. And although it’s a neighborhood school, it also draws students from outside its attendance area because of its four highly regarded career and technical education programs.

The student population is 99.5 percent black and 95 percent low-income, with 20 percent in special-ed. It also has a high mobility rate — 26 percent of students enroll and leave.

“Julian has been a tough place to work,” said Joseph McDermott, the Chicago Teachers Union’s field representative for Julian. “There’s been a lot of assaults on teachers, and the principal there — I think she was a nice lady and she tried her best, but the problems persist.

“But, frankly, if you look at other neighborhood high schools, there are just 400 kids at some places, and to have been able to hold on with more than 600 kids, Julian has been doing something right and been able to fight off the inevitable,” McDermott said.