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Bronzeville, Near South Side

Plans For The Controversial Near South Side High School Are Underway. Here’s What You Need To Know

The Board of Education will decide in June if it will create the school. A committee has been created to get feedback from families in the meantime.

The proposed site for a new CPS high school, a vacant lot at 24th and State streets where the former Harold L. Ickes Homes sat, as seen from above the Near South Side on July 26, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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NEAR SOUTH SIDE — Chicago Public Schools is going full steam ahead with its controversial move to build a $150 million open-enrollment school on the the Near South Side.

District officials unveiled more details about the plan Thursday at the first in a series of virtual community meetings, explaining how plans for the school will take shape over the next few months.

It was the first public event after the City Council in December approved $8 million in tax increment financing for the proposed school, despite pushback from some neighbors. Five more meetings will be held by June.

An ad hoc committee consisting of CPS staff, local school council members and community leaders was formed in November to guide residents through the process of potentially creating the school and to gather feedback to be shared at future meetings. The group — which includes Grace Chan McKibben, the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community’s executive director, and Bright Star Church pastor Chris Harris — will meet twice a week over the next few months.

The school council members represent the nine feeder elementary schools the proposed high school would serve: Armour, National Teachers Academy, Drake, Healy, Ward J, Holden, Smyth, Haines and South Loop.

The proposed boundary is made up of portions of Wells, Phillips and Tilden high schools and would have space for 1,200 students, 30 percent of them Black. If all goes according to plan, the building could be open by 2025.

The Board of Education will decide in June if it will create the school.

Here’s what to expect ahead of then:

  • February: The committee will conduct “empathy interviews” and one-on-ones with impacted residents to narrow the proposed school’s academic focus and building amenities, the results of which will be presented for feedback at the next virtual public meeting. Survey and focus groups will be launched at that time.
  • March: The committee members will distill the feedback received as they continue to conduct empathy interviews, which will be presented during the public meeting in March, along with findings and recommendations that will route to CPS senior leadership. The focus groups will continue.
  • April: Program aspects — including the school’s academic focus — will be sent to the Public Building Commission.
  • May: District leaders will provide a status update on the project amid the release of the 2023-24 Capital Plan, which will include the proposed high school.
  • June: The Board of Education votes on the capital budget.
A map of where the proposed Near South Side high school would be built, which is adjacent to the Southbridge mixed-use development where 244 units would be set aside for public housing residents.

There may be an opportunity for students who live outside the boundaries to attend the school if there’s room, said Adrian Segura, CPS’s chief of Family and Community Engagement.

The school would begin enrolling ninth grade only in the first year, ninth and tenth in the second year and so on, said Iliana Vargas, who serves as the district’s director of planning and data management.

Not everyone is on board with plans for the proposed school. A coalition of residents and activists and politicians — including Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Rep. Theresa Mah — have fought the plan since it was reintroduced in the spring.

Opponents of the proposed school have said Mayor Lori Lightfoot and district leaders are ignoring the needs of the community and failing to fulfill a promise to allow all the displaced residents from the Harold Ickes Homes to return.

The district entered a $10.3 million land swap agreement with the Chicago Housing Authority in July with hopes of building the school at that site.

As part of the deal, Southbridge, a residential development adjacent to the school site, will build 244 units for CHA families.

School leaders facilitating Thursday’s meeting acknowledged they were aware of Mah’s vow to yank $50 million in state funding for the project, but they told attendees the plan will move along until the June vote.

In the meantime, CPS has created a site where residents can learn more about the proposed high school and follow updates. Those with questions can send them via email to nshs@cps.edu.

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