Crane reborn as medical school
At 11th hour, Brizard signs off on plan to keep high school local with a new focus
02/22/2012 10:00 PM
After months of intense fighting between officials and activists about whether or not to close the Near West Side’s Crane High School, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has signed on to a plan to keep the school open.
Under the new plan, Crane will be shifting its mission, changing from a high school that’s solely neighborhood-focused to one that’s focused on training students for jobs in the medical industry.
Chicago Journal was the first to break the story last Friday.
It’s being billed as a collaboration between CPS officials and the Crane Coalition, a group of teachers and community members who have been fighting for months to keep the school open.
“We are excited about the new direction for Crane and the chance to give students on the Near West Side greater access to high quality education,” Brizard said. “There is much work to be done, but the proposed plan for Crane would create Chicago’s first public high school dedicated to preparing students for careers or post-secondary education in the health sciences.”
It’s a departure from Brizard’s earlier stance. He argued in a November interview with Chicago Journal’s editorial board that Crane’s low graduation rate and 10 years on academic probation were unacceptable.
The roadmap going forward is still unclear, but a task force made up of parents, CPS staff, local elected officials and community members will work on hammering out the details. The neighborhood school as it currently exists will still be phased out, but the new “health sciences” school, as it’s being dubbed, will debut in 2013.
Right now, the new health sciences school is still set to be a neighborhood school, and it’ll draw from the existing Crane boundaries. However, the existing Crane will still technically be phased out one class at a time, and eighth grade students who would normally enter Crane in fall 2012 won’t have that option during the transition period. Those students will have “a range of high school options,” according to a press release from CPS.
Talent Development, the charter school currently based on the West Side, will still share the building with the new health-focused Crane.
The task force will work together to “overcome a history of low performance that has persisted at Crane despite significant financial investment by CPS,” the press release said. “The task force seeks to restore Crane’s reputation as one of Chicago’s premier technical preparatory high schools and reopen with the first class of ninth-graders in the fall of 2013.”
The idea was publically pitched by state Sen. Annazette Collins at a press conference Friday, Feb. 10 in front of the school. The idea sprang from nearby Malcolm X College taking a similar tactic, beefing up its medical programming to take advantage of the nearby Illinois Medical District and its need for technicians.
“Why not take this opportunity to teach kids in low income neighborhoods how to be EMTs?” Collins said last week. “In this case, I think it’s a great opportunity because of where Malcolm X is and what they’re doing.”
Collins said the plan from the Crane Coalition to turn the school around with the help of a program called Strategic Learning Initiatives was an interesting idea but that ultimately a bigger change needed to be made at the school.
“If you were going to turn the school around, you would have done it already,” Collins said. “The local attendance has been so low, especially since they tore down the projects. You have to have programs to attract kids from around the city.”
Stacy Davis Gates, director of political activities for the Chicago Teachers Union, said last week that the union was “cautiously optimistic” about the proposal.
“It’s an idea that’s authentically community-based,” Davis Gates said. “When legislators are engaged in this process, things happen.”
The union has pushed to keep the school alive as a neighborhood school instead of phasing it out over the next four years, as CPS initially proposed. Davis Gates acknowledged that some things needed to change, but said that the school should look carefully at how the change would be executed before signing on to it.
“No one thinks it should remain in its current state,” she said. “The issue is, what’s the template for this change? Thinking about this from the perspective of an educator, right now, you have this project that they’re working on, but without a rubric.”
One of Crane’s biggest advocates in the community, Near West Side Community Development Commission chief Earnest Gates, said they’d been working on this solution for a while, meeting with CPS officials and trying to negotiate a way to keep the school open.
“We’ve met through back channels, talked to school officials and board members. This is a business deal, and we constructed it in such a way that it’ll be a good transaction for folks who will do business with the school — teachers, parents, students and the community,” Gates said. “This is not the time to be satisfied. It’s a victory considering what was originally planned, but my satisfaction will come when we have a school that leaves the other one in its dust.”
Crane’s storied athletic programs have birthed many great athletes over the years, among them Bears and NFL founder George Halas. When news of the school’s proposed closure reached his children and grandchildren — the team’s current owners — they spoke out against the plan.
But Tuesday evening, Halas’ grandson George McCaskey, chairman of the Bears’ board, issued a statement applauding the school’s new direction.
“The McCaskey family applauds the rebirth of Crane High School as a career academy dedicated to students interested in pursuing careers in the health sciences,” McCaskey said. “We wish the program success and congratulate Mayor Emanuel and Jean-Claude Brizard on their innovative approach.”
Emanuel has been one of the most ardent advocates for shutting down failing schools, standing beside Brizard at many public events. But he, too, applauded the new plan for Crane.
“When it comes to school reform, agreeing on the problem is the first step to agreeing on a solution,” he said in an emailed statement. “This new partnership will develop a plan to provide students at Crane with essential skills that will prepare them for future careers in the high-growth healthcare sector. With this specialization, Crane students will be able to capitalize on resources from the newly created healthcare curriculum at Malcolm X City College. I am hopeful that this group will successfully chart a new course for Crane High School, giving its students the opportunity to receive the best technical education in Chicago.”
The CPS board was set to vote on the phase out as well as the new plan at its board meeting Wednesday, Feb. 22.