ALBANY PARK — A neighborhood high school principal is asking Chicago Public Schools to slow down a potential decision to allow a charter school to open in Albany Park, a move the principal says would siphon away students.
ASPIRA Early College High School, 3986 W. Barry Ave. in Avondale, serves 325 students, the majority of whom are Latino. In January, its board approved plans to move into the CPS-owned building at 3729 W. Leland Ave.
That’s less than a mile from Theodore Roosevelt High School, on the corner of Leland and Kimball.
Roosevelt’s principal Dan Kramer said he only learned of the ASPIRA proposal a few weeks ago “through the grapevine” and is worried if the CPS Board of Education approves the move, it’ll hurt his school’s enrollment — which in turn could lead to a cut in district funding.
Kramer wants the board to delay any decision on ASPIRA’s plan to allow the community to learn more about the charter school and give feedback.
“I have nothing but empathy and sympathy for all the other schools, public, charter, whatever because it really has been one heck of a year,” Kramer said. “But there’s no reason to make a decision on this proposal right now. I really think this could wait a year.”
Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) agrees and has appealed to CPS to do more community outreach and hopefully find a compromise for the two schools’ needs.
“There’s just two school communities trying to figure out what is best for them,” Rodriguez said.
CPS already leases its Leland property to the charter network’s ASPIRA Haugan Middle School, which serves as a feeder school to ASPIRA’s Early College School, according to ASPIRA’s CEO Fernando E. Grillo.
The move would also provide needed space for students in ASPIRA’s Antonia Pantoja High School.
“I want to emphasize that ASPIRA’s proposed plan is a relocation of our ASPIRA Early College High School. It is not an expansion of our schools,” Grillo said. “ASPIRA views our relocation as complementary, not as competition for students, to Roosevelt High School.”
Roosevelt at 3436 W. Wilson Ave. serves students from the Albany Park, Ravenswood Manor and Irving Park neighborhoods.
As a neighborhood school, anyone within its boundaries is guaranteed enrollment and the majority of the school’s students are Latino and low-income, according to CPS data. The school also offers bilingual services in Arabic, French and Spanish and refugee services.
“Right now we’re on an upward trajectory and I just don’t know if this would be a dealbreaker for Roosevelt. But I just don’t want to risk stopping our progress,” Kramer said.
Kramer says Roosevelt improved its CPS rating under his tenure by offering students extra tutoring and support with personal issues that could be hurting their grades in addition to programing like a dual language curriculum and coding programs focused on game design, among other things.
There was a drop off in students from 2018 to 2019 reflecting the closing of Roosevelt’s middle school program but over the last three years the schools’s population has increased from 962 students in 2019 to 1,021 students in 2021, according to Kramer and CPS data.
Roosevelt could risk funding shortages if ASPIRA’s plans for Leland move forward, Kramer said.
The portion of district funding tied to enrollment is based on student population from the prior year, according to the CPS budget website. That’s designed to prevent a school from losing funding immediately even if they have fewer students in the fall, although the district allocates more funding to schools that outpace their enrollment projections.
“Research consistently supports that when charters open up in close proximity to neighborhood high schools, there is just inevitably an impact on enrollment,” Kramer said. “So you take 100 kids away from us, you’re literally looking at four to five positions that have to be closed.”
After he learned of the plan, Kramer sent a letter to CPS officials expressing his concerns. He also told board members at this week’s meeting he wanted more time for the community to weigh in on the proposal.
Rodriguez also sent CPS a letter, saying as a former teacher who has worked in both public and charter schools, she’s sensitive to both Roosevelt and ASPIRA’s needs and the work they both do serving Albany Park and the surrounding communities.
But allowing the charter to relocate to the Leland address would “only benefit the ASPIRA school community at the expense of our Roosevelt school community,” she wrote.
CPS did not answer Block Club’s questions about the proposal, but shared statements CPS Chief Operating Officer Arnie Rivera made during Wednesday’s board meeting.
The district allows charter schools to submit “material modifications” every year and ASPIRA’s proposal for the Leland address is currently under review, Rivera said. After that review, proposals are typically presented to the CPS board along with recommendations.
“My understanding is there was a public hearing managed by the ASPIRA charter school earlier this year,” Rivera said. “…But there has not been any determination as to whether it’ll be brought to the board for consideration.”
CPS did not answer questions on whether the district would host its own community meeting on the proposal to gather neighborhood feedback or when the district would determine if ASPIRA’s proposal should be presented to the board.
Kramer attended ASPIRA’s March 16 relocation forum but said the conversation was focused on remote learning challenges and the topic of the Leland address was not addressed.
“There should be a much deeper needs analysis first and Roosevelt should have been a part of this conversation from the start,” Kramer said.
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