Jones Prep plan for local kids detailed
Neighborhood students will take one special class, all others same as selective enrollment
09/12/2012 10:00 PM
Two years after Chicago Public Schools officials signed off on plans for a new Jones College Prep in the South Loop, the school’s principal revealed details of one of the new building’s most notable features: a neighborhood component.
When Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) approved giving more than $100 million in local TIF cash from South Loop residents’ property taxes for the new school’s construction, he asked CPS to offer local residents something in return at the selective enrollment high school: spots for local kids.
CPS said they’d provide 300 neighborhood seats at Jones, but how exactly students would be integrated into Jones was a mystery up until recently.
On Tuesday night, as schools around the district were closed due to the Chicago Teachers Union’s strike, Jones’ local school council gathered in the otherwise-empty building’s cafeteria as Principal Joe Powers explained how the program will work.
Jones’ neighborhood seats will be a Career and Technical Education program, which allows for students to get into the school if they want to focus on one of two areas — pre-law or pre-engineering. It’ll be open first and foremost to students living within a neighborhood boundary, which hasn’t been drawn yet. The remaining seats will be open to students citywide.
Students in the local program will only take one class at a time that’s specific to pre-law or pre-engineering. The rest of the time, they’ll take the same classes as regular Jones students.
The result, Powers said, will be a group of students that’s well-integrated.
“Once students are admitted, with the exception of their scheduling, there’ll be no distinction between the students,” he said.
That wasn’t always the plan for the new school, though. Initial plans called for all the neighborhood students to be warehoused on one of the new school’s seven floors, he said.
“Originally, when I was shown the first building plans for Jones College Prep, they had basically a separate floor for a neighborhood component that was going to be a school within a school,” said Powers. “And I said, ‘Where’s my contract, I’d be happy to hand it back to you right now,’ because I wouldn’t do it. I don’t believe in that kind of thing.”
“I’ve seen schools where they have an us-versus-them sort of situation in a school, and that’s not we want for Jones,” he added.
Local students will be able to get into Jones by applying for either the selective enrollment process that traditionally has been used to admit kids into the school, or through the separate Career and Technical Education application process, Powers said. He recommended anyone who wants to get into Jones fill out both applications.
If seats in the neighborhood program aren’t filled with local students, then Powers said they’d take kids from outside the neighborhood boundary. They’ll likely use that ability to grab students who just missed the test score cutoff for Jones’ selective enrollment program, taking more kids from the hundreds who miss the cut every year.
Integrating neighborhood students into a thriving selective enrollment school is a new process for CPS, and Fioretti’s education liaison Leslie Recht said at Tuesday’s meeting that if it works, it could be put in place at more schools.
The new Jones building is set to open in fall 2013. A freshman class of neighborhood students in the program will join the roughly 900 selective enrollment students on that first day. A new grade level of the Career and Technical Education program will be added each year afterwards.
Yet to be determined is what will happen to the old Jones building when the school moves next door. A group of neighborhood parents and activists have been pushing to keep it open, rehab it and make it a new school filled entirely with neighborhood students. The school district and city’s original proposal called to turn the site into a park with athletic facilities, and to straighten out the intersection of Harrison and State.
CPS hasn’t officially announced what it’ll do with the building, but Fioretti has said he won’t approve TIF money to tear it down.