Why the Central City High School Plan Needs to Be Questioned

by Blagica Bottigliero

I’ve stayed quiet on this issue for some time, but I thought it was time to provide another viewpoint to the table. I also had a baby four months or so ago and getting back in the swing of my civic obligations. I've always felt that no matter where I lived, volunteering time to my neighbors was a necessity to feeling connecting to a home.

For those of you not in the know, the Central City High School Plan is organized by the folks at Connecting 4 Communities – a neighborhood organization led by the man who was once head of one of the University Village organizations. At the same time we were trying to convert the OLD Jones High School building to a neighborhood high school, we were asked to join forces with the C4C folks. 

 Let’s quickly recap what happened with the Jones project.

CPS is building a brand new Jones College Prep High School building next to the current space. Jones is a selective enrollment high school, accessible to anyone in the city who can test into it.  There was initial talk from the City to demolish the old building and straighten up Harrison Street.  Many of us in the South Loop caught wind of this and were confused. How could a neighborhood busting out with kids not have a neighborhood high school?

With Alderman Bob Fiorietti’s  backing and loads of census data, we went to the school board.  We presented data showing how much the neighborhood has grown in the last ten years.  The South Loop and the surrounding areas (Chinatown and Bronzeville) is called ‘The Suburb of Chicago’ for a reason – it’s exploding with strollers, families, dogs, nannies, babysitters and dirty diapers.

There was a lot of back and forth. A lot of he said/she said. A lot of CPS members not talking to one another. Then there was a glimmer of hope.  We learned that CPS might agree with us, save the building and let us renovate it for the kids. I forgot to mention that the Alderman had money to put into renovation of the old building – CPS initially asked him for $10 million to tear it down.

After a series of meetings, an interview with the Chicago Reader, Fioretti asking Emanuel for a private meeting, Fioretti organizing  a press conference about the issue and, by coincidence (cough), Mayor Emanuel deciding to hold his own press conference at Jones College Prep, Emanuel announced that the building would be saved (win!) and combined with the new school to make a larger, selective enrollment campus.  To boot, the Mayor said they would pour millions, money they claim they DIDN’T have, into renovating the old Jones.

It was a slap in the face to all of us. After all those months of organizing, talking to the Board of Education and collecting information for the cause, no one met with us. The Mayor, CPS, etc. no one took any of us aside to explain what would happen and why. We couldn't prove that people were moving OUT of the South Loop to the suburbs, but they were. They are. CPS doesn't seem to be forward thinking at all.

While all of this was happening, we knew of an encouraging group who wanted our support for another high school. This high school would serve the Tri-Taylor, Little Italy, Roosevelt Square & Brooks Homes, University Village and Commons. More meetings revealed that this group could use the support of the South Loop to make an even more powerful case for a new Central City High School. Now that the Jones project isn’t moving forward, the South Loop is included in the Central City High School’s boundaries.

Here is what the organizers of the project aren’t discussing and what I think parents and other school supporters should review:

How is this high school a ‘neighborhood’ high school for people outside of the very neighborhood that is made UP of the C4C organization?  The website has the boundaries clear as day in the header. The South Loop isn’t included.

Since they included the South Loop, why not Bronzeville or Chinatown?

Has anyone within the C4C told parents that the area in where they want to put the high school is experiencing some high criminal activity?

Has anyone within the C4C told parents about the OTHER high schools in that area, along with the NEW programs CPS will be putting into currently schools like Crane?

I will always be on the side of providing more public school options for children, but this is where things get fuzzy for me.

The South Loop/Bronzeville/Chinatown area does NOT have any solid public high school options.

We presented data to keep the old Jones building and make it a neighborhood high school to serve this area.

The project was turned down.

Now I’m being asked to support a Central City High School plan for a high school that isn’t near our neighborhood and would be placed in an area which already has a hearty list of high schools?

To me, it sounds like the South Loop is being thrown into the C4C boundary for the benefit of giving them more people to accommodate their number needs.

That’s not very neighborly.

Or, did the Mayor want to turn down Fioretti's request for political reasons? Sure, Fioretti ran against him for Mayor, but he wouldn't upset a whole community as a result?