Small Schools Expo Credit: photo by John Booz

A proposal to open a small high school named in memory of a local civil rights activist is expected to be the first to get a green light under an initiative that calls for 12 such schools to open over the next four years.

If approved, the Al Raby School for Community and Environment would open next fall in the building that once housed Lucy Flower High School in East Garfield Park.

However, members of the advisory panel that gave the thumbs up to Raby clashed over whether it should recommend another proposal to fill the second new school slot in the Flower facility.

The community needs to serve more neighborhood kids, says Curlee Reed, an area resident and member of the Flower Transition Advisory Council. “I vehemently oppose the decision,” he says. “It shouldn’t even have been an issue whether one or two schools would go in. We had already decided on two schools.”

In August, CPS issued a request for proposals for one or two small high schools to open at Flower next fall. The project would be the first funded under a $7.6 million grant the district received in the spring from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The executive committee of the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative, which oversees distribution of the Gates grants, is expected to make a decision about Raby on Dec. 10.

Members of the council—consisting of community residents, CPS parents and Ald. Ed Smith—agreed that Raby had the most solid proposal of all six applicants. However, some council members wanted to recommend another proposal that others said lacked a budget plan.

“I would much rather see us go in with one school that I think could get ready in six months,” says one advisory panel member who requested anonymity. “There’s a feeling, though, among some of the community folks, that they’ve been railroaded.”

Council member Mildred Wiley of Bethel New Life says the group learned a lesson in the process. The next time they solicit proposals for Flower, the panel will set benchmarks to inform the community about the proposal process and offer more technical assistance to applicants.

The council plans to meet again in January to set a timeline for the second round of proposals. Another round of proposals will be solicited and considered for a fall 2005 opening at DuSable High School, which this year did not accept freshmen.

Intern Sabrina Strand contributed to this report.

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