What should the Chicago Public Schools do when a high school hollows out?
That’s a question CPS cannot avoid, with classes set to start in days and thousands of high school seats still open. Sooner rather than later, the district has to grapple with the problem of small, under-resourced schools that can’t offer the curriculum and after-school activities that all kids deserve.
Consider these numbers from CPS’ own data: When classes begin next Tuesday, Hirsch High in Chatham will have 288 freshman spots but is expected to enroll only 50 ninth-graders.
Tilden High in Back of the Yards has 727 freshman spots but expects to enroll just 36 freshmen.
Orr High in West Garfield Park: 250 spots, 18 freshmen.
Dozens of other high schools are in similar straits. Declining enrollment won’t help matters, either.
CPS has set aside $10 million this year for schools with low enrollment, to shore up academics and activities in hopes of retaining existing students and attracting new ones. Meanwhile, the district currently isn’t considering another round of mass school closings.
It makes sense to shore up neglected neighborhood high schools so they’re more attractive to kids and families. Move ahead with that, before moving forward with new charters or new buildings. We have to ask: With 379 freshman seats open at Wells Academy, just outside West Town, does it truly make sense to plan another $70 million high school for Near West Side children who live within Wells’ attendance boundaries?
GoCPS, the new high school application system, makes it easier for the district to see which programs draw the most kids, so they can be replicated elsewhere.
Eventually, however, reality will set in: Some schools will rise while others will fall.
It’s easy to demand, as some have, that CPS not close any schools.
It’s much more difficult, but necessary, to figure out what to do when schools get too small.
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