CPS wants to turn Hancock High School in McKinley Park into a selective enrollment and career and technical education (CTE) school, saying that families, elected officials and community leaders in the area want more selective admissions seats.

The decision, which still must go through public hearings, prompted criticism from one of the leaders of a well-regarded University of Chicago initiative that works with neighborhood high schools to improve academics and increase college-going.

“You can understand trying to shake up a school that is not performing, but shaking up something that is working really well, it looks like you’re trying to undo it or reduce its effect,” says Sarah Duncan, co-director of the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. “The conspiracy theorists might say they’re undermining high-achieving neighborhood schools on purpose. It kind of looks like that.”

The Network for College Success has worked with Hancock since 2008. As it does with other schools in the city, the staff helps with Hancock’s organizational development and making improvements that are based on research and data. It also partnered with the school in its $5.7 million, three-year federal School Improvement Grant, which ended this past school year. The SIG program is a reform effort aimed at improving the worst schools in the country, without firing an entire staff, as in a turnaround.

Last year, Hancock was rated a Level 2 school. Its freshman on-track rate, a measure of whether freshmen are earning enough credits to graduate on time, was 91.2 percent, up nearly 10 percentage points from the previous year. Research by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research has shown that the on-track metric is a strong predictor of high school graduation.

“Hancock is a neighborhood school that while serving its neighborhood kids, has solved its dropout problem, its on-track rate is in the 90s, it’s really raising the bar on instruction and getting kids into better colleges,” Duncan says. “Why would we take half of that opportunity for successful neighborhood schools away from that community? Honestly, it is a model of a neighborhood school.”

Money for capital improvements

The new programs at Hancock will also entail $10 million in capital improvements, which CPS says the state will finance.

The district plans to phase in the selective enrollment slots one grade at a time starting next fall, with a freshmen class of 105 students. An equal number of slots will be available for the CTE program, focused on pre-law or engineering, and students from a wider area will get a preference for those seats. Still, students must apply for admission into both citywide programs.

“We are enthusiastic about the potential of a revitalized Hancock High School and look forward to establishing a new high-quality option in the far southwest side of Chicago,” said CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in a statement.
CPS projects the school will serve about 840 students after four years, which is less than its current enrollment level of 920 students. Neighborhood students who don’t make it into either the selective-enrollment or CTE programs would get diverted into one of the area neighborhood high schools, whose attendance boundaries will be redrawn.

The two closest neighborhood high schools are Curie and Hubbard, both of which are also Level 2.

Even though the transformation has not yet been approved, CPS says it will start taking applications for seats in Hancock’s proposed selective enrollment and CTE programs today. The application process for all selective enrollment schools will close on Dec. 12.

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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