A dozen proposed new charter schools will be up for review at a public hearing tonight, and co-locations are one of the major themes.

For example, a group that’s connected to the New Life Covenant Church in Grand Crossing wants to open a school for 7th– through 12th-graders inside of Hirsch Metro High School.

The KIPP charter group wants to open elementary schools inside Orr High School in Humboldt Park and Till Math and Science Academy in Woodlawn. In addition, KIPP is seeking to add an elementary school to its existing middle school, which is already located inside Nash Elementary in Austin.

Finances are a major motivator for making co-location a priority — this year the district is not offering any financial assistance to help cover start-up costs.

“The sobering news of the district’s financial crisis led us to recommit to our core believe that co-location is the right model for our organization,” KIPP officials wrote in their proposal documents.

“Leveraging under-utilized CPS facilities is a win-win scenario for the district,” they added “and we believe that there are viable opportunities in our proposed communities.”

However, teachers at some of the schools being sought for co-locations worry they will have a negative impact on enrollment at their and other neighborhood schools.

“Charter schools take resources away from other CPS schools,” says Kris Himebaugh, who teaches English at Orr High, which has losing enrollment for years. “I’m sure they’ve been taking the kids from the elementary schools that feed into us.”

Himebaugh says that her building’s third floor was cleared out over the summer. Her classroom, for example, was moved into a room that formerly housed a culinary arts program that was discontinued several years ago due to declining enrollment.

Currently 23 of Chicago’s charter schools are co-located with other CPS schools, either district-run or other charter schools, according to the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS).

“Co-locations definitely make sense,” says Andrew Broy, president of INCS. “There’s no real meaningful dispute on whether it’s efficient to charters to collocate if we can get past the politics of the issue.”

Broy says KIPP’s own experience sharing space with Nash was “rocky” at the start. But the principals at both schools have built a partnership and the schools have become “a model of how it can work and very well.”

Federal dollars for charters

All of the charter proposals will be vetted publicly during hearings that begin at 4 p.m. at the CPS Board of Education chambers, 42 W. Madison St.

The proposals – and particularly the one for a Noble high school on the Southwest Side — have been the subject of controversy in recent months. Critics question whether it makes financial sense to open new schools while the district faces a half-billion budget deficit – while teachers and administrators at neighborhood schools worry about the impact on enrollment. And last week, 42 of the city’s 50 alderman signed a resolution to put a moratorium on new charter schools for this year.

Broy says the district should use only one lens – quality – to make decisions on new schools.

Meanwhile, this week the U.S. Department of Education announced that two Chicago charter networks — LEARN and Noble — received competitive grants to support new campus openings. The grants support charter groups that serve low-income students.

Noble is receiving $1.6 million this year, and is slated to get another $6.8 million over the next few years. Noble officials have said they plan to use philanthropic dollars in addition to possible federal grant money to open a new school.

LEARN, which received $3.2 million this year and is slated to get a total of $6.6 million, has been expanding in recent years to the suburbs and is not proposing to open new schools in Chicago this year.

The Board of Education is expected to vote on the charter proposals in October. They are supposed to take into account non-binding recommendations from three Neighborhood Advisory Councils (NACs), self-selected volunteers who reviewed all the charter proposals over the summer.

Here’s how the NACs voted on the proposals and what time the public hearings will take place tonight.

Southwest Side

  • Noble: 2 for, 3 against. Noble is proposing to build a new high school in Brighton Park. Hearing from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • STARS: 0 for, 5 against. STARS is proposing an engineering-themed high school. It was considered by two NACs because of its possible site locations in the Southwest and West sides. Its priority site is at Assumption Church in Little Village. Hearing from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

West Side 

  • KIPP: 5 for, 0 against. KIPP is proposing to open three new elementary schools, all co-locations. It was considered by two NACs because of the locations of the sites. The West Side sites are at Orr High School in Humboldt Park and Nash Elementary, where KIPP already has a middle school, Ascend Primary School. Hearing from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • STARS: 3 for, 2 against. (details above)

Southeast Side

  • New Life: 19 for, 5 against, 1 abstain. New Life is proposing a performing arts school that would be run by the private management group, Edison Learning. The school would be co-located at Hirsch HIgh. Hearing from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  • KIPP:19 for, 5 against, 1 abstain. The Southeast Side site would be at Till Elementary in Woodlawn. (See details above)
  • Perseid: 0 for, 24 against, 1 abstain. Perseid is proposing to open an elementary school inside Zion Lutheran Church in Roseland. Hearing from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

In addition, tonight’s hearings will be an opportunity for the public to weigh in on two proposals for alternative charter schools. One of the proposals is from the Youth Connection Charter School network, which wants to open a school with Rincon Family Services in Avondale.

The second proposal is from the group Connected Futures, which seeks to open five campuses over the next three years at different sites across the city.



Melissa Sanchez is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email her at msanchez@chicagoreporter.com and follow her on Twitter at @msanchezMIA.

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