ALBANY PARK — A charter school network seeking to move its Avondale high school to Albany Park has hired architects to design a campus with the hope of offering classes at the new location this fall.
But staff at Theodore Roosevelt High School, neighbors and the ward’s Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) are pushing Chicago Public Schools to block the relocation because they fear it could siphon students and funding from the neighborhood high school, 3436 W. Wilson Ave., just a few blocks away.
District officials hosted a community meeting Wednesday to review the ASPIRA Early College High School proposal to move from 3986 W. Barry Ave. to 3729 W. Leland Ave., less than a half-mile from Roosevelt.
CPS already leases the Leland building to ASPIRA Haugan Middle School, which serves as a feeder school to the charter’s college prep high school. The high school enrolls 325 students, the majority of whom are Latino.
Roosevelt, with more than 1,000 students, serves Albany Park, Ravenswood Manor and Irving Park. Students within the neighborhood boundaries is guaranteed enrollment.
CPS allows charter schools to submit “material modifications” every year and ASPIRA’s proposal for the Leland address is currently under review, according to the district. CPS did not answer Block Club’s questions about when ASPIRA’s proposal would be presented to the school board for a decision.
“We are not talking about sharing the same neighborhood. We are talking about almost sharing the same block,” Roosevelt’s Principal Dan Kramer said.
At the meeting, ASPIRA Early College High School’s Principal Brenda Stolle-Miramon said a group of her students presented the charter network’s Board of Directors with a “list of grievances” in November 2017 about their facilities. They said the Barry Avenue building lacks space for physical education, access to green space and classroom space to support “a true early college experience.”
“These students proposed a solution to their grievances, which was a physical relocation of [their high school]. My students deserve a true college preparatory environment,” Stolle-Miramon said.
ASPIRA CEO Fernando E. Grillo did not respond to questions about how the relocation would address these problems or if those students were still enrolled at ASPIRA.
Even with a final decision pending, the charter network has hired architects “in anticipation subject to approval by the CPS board” with the goal of having the school’s move complete and classes offered at the Albany Park campus by fall 2021, Grillo said. He said their move wouldn’t affect Roosevelt’s enrollment.
Alds. Felix Cardona Jr. (31st) and Ariel Reboyras (30th), who represent nearby wards, also spoke in favor of ASPIRA’s proposal. Reboyras has three ASPIRA schools in his ward and said students from the charter network often volunteer in his office to get their service hours.
“They deserve the growth,” Reboyras said.
But Albany Park neighbors said ASPIRA’s growth will come at the expense of Roosevelt.
Jim McIntosh, a teacher at Roosevelt, noted that most of the 26 speakers who spoke in favor of the relocation at Wednesday’s meeting were staff from the charter network, groups that partner with ASPIRA or have contracts to offer services to the network’s students.
“What we’re hearing tonight is a continuation of a corporate sales pitch,” McIntosh said. “Charter schools exist to create more charter schools.”
Kramer told Block Club his school risks funding shortages if ASPIRA’s plans for Leland move forward.
That’s because a 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.
“Based on the patterns of Chicago charter school enrollment, whenever a charter school has opened or relocated a campus in close proximity to a CPS neighborhood high school, there has been an inevitable impact,” Kramer wrote in an open letter he submitted to the district this week.
“The Aspira organization has a deep history of community development in Chicago neighborhoods for which they have earned well-deserved recognition and support … [But] it is our concern that while this site relocation may serve the needs of the Aspira High School community, it does so at a cost to others, especially Roosevelt High School,” he wrote.
Bridget Murphy, a member of 39th Ward Neighbors United, has two children attending Volta Elementary, which feeds into Roosevelt.
“We have seen this movie before,” Murphy said. “Opening a charter school next to a neighborhood school leads to a reduction in resources for the neighborhood school. If this ASPIRA move is a done deal then, for starters, I would like to see a commitment from CPS to hold harmless Roosevelt’s budget if enrollment drops.”
Rodriguez also is opposing the move in order to “protect my only neighborhood high school,” which has worked hard to improve its district rating after years of underperforming.
Roosevelt’s enrollment dropped from 2018 to 2019 after it closed its middle school program. Over the last three years, the school’s population has increased from 962 students in 2019 to 1,021 students in 2021, according to Kramer and CPS data.
“I feel like it’s very important to work with CPS to find an adequate space for ASPIRA’s college prep students so that they have what they need, but without Roosevelt being under threat of losing enrollment and losing resources that have been so hard fought for,” Rodriguez said.
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