Reuse the old Jones building
Letter to the editor
05/02/2012 10:00 PM
I got involved in education issues for selfish reasons. We faced the same difficult decision every family does. Do we stay or go to the suburbs? If we stay, do we pay tuition at age three to get a private spot or roll the dice on a good public school? We were lucky. Our child tested well, was accepted at Skinner Classical and won the lottery at Andrew Jackson.
Just as we hunkered down to make a tough decision, CPS came calling. Arne Duncan, Mary Ellen Caron and several area families urged us to join them in a new regional gifted center at South Loop Elementary School, designed to get back neighborhood students.
We enrolled our daughter in the first kindergarten gifted class, with fellow pioneer families like the Smiths, Lordens, Oakes and others. It was a difficult first few years but when we turned the corner and the neighborhood program became oversubscribed our group knew we had accomplished something major and foundational for our area.
The success of South Loop was just one of many at the elementary level; Skinner and the new STEM Magnet Academy were others. Alderman Fioretti works tirelessly on education; working with him and the great Leslie Recht on education has been very rewarding. Unfortunately, we have hit a wall with CPS on a plan to address the neighborhood’s need for an area high school.
As a result, last year it seemed like Groundhog Day. Once again my wife (with help from our teenage daughter) labored through the statistics, school report cards, open houses, school applications, etc., to put together our options. Once again we looked at relocating to the suburbs. Once again, we got lucky. Good thing, because we had to. Wendell Phillips, this area’s neighborhood high school, is not an option. No diversity in student population. Test scores at the very bottom of the CPS scale. A school in crisis and turnaround for over a decade.
There is an easy solution to this. Instead of spending $10 million to demolish the current Jones building, spend the estimated $20 million needed to refurbish it. As the selective program heads into their new building, funded by this area’s tax dollars via tax increment financing, repay in part the area’s investment with a neighborhood high school program at the current building. Such a move will be a success. The same families involved in the resurgence of elementary schools have children now worrying about high school.
The location is a great one. The surrounding area is rich in potential partners, including Jones, SLES, nearby college campuses, the Museums and the loop headquarters of Fortune 100 businesses.
I have advocated behind the scenes for years, but now is a critical time and we need the community’s help. Good neighborhood schools are the hallmark of great neighborhoods and we deserve one. Please help by joining a letter writing campaign today, more information and my letter to our Mayor is up at www.pdnachicago.com. South Loop School is a great success story, let’s create another one.