Wanted: New school proposals

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • April 08, 2008 @ 8:15 AM

City education officials are looking for new ideas for charter schools on the West and South sides of Chicago.

Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan issued the invitation to prospective school operators yesterday as he discussed the latest round of Renaissance 2010 school expansions.

The combination of new and restructured schools would open in fall 2009 and 2010.

"We're trying to become the best big-city program in America," says Duncan.

Adopted by the city in June 2004, Renaissance 2010 calls for 100 new schools to be opened by 2010. Through four previous phases, 55 schools have been opened, including Englewood's Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men, where officials made yesterday's announcement.

Another 21 new schools will open next fall, including three turnaround projects and 11 charter schools.

CPS officials say they do not have a specific number of schools in mind for either next year or the following one.

The procedure to propose a Renaissance 2010 school is extensive, beginning with online cover letters due June 2, and a design statement that must be submitted by July 28.

The newest round of new school proposals will carry a big name with it. Former NBA star Kevin Johnson is the CEO and founder of St. HOPE, a nonprofit school organization based in Sacramento, Calif., which has opened a charter school system in Sacramento.

St. HOPE will open a charter school in New York City next fall and wants to include Chicago in its national expansion.

"We've been visiting communities for about the last year and (in Chicago) there is a tremendous passion and caring about education ..." says Dana Gonzalez, St. HOPE director of new site and school development. "And that's very appealing to us. There's a tremendous will among the leadership doing this work."

While Duncan expects many school proposals to come from within Chicago and the region, CPS officials are hoping St. HOPE and other national groups also arrive on the scene.

The success of the Urban Prep Charter Academy, an all-male school with a student retention rate of 94 percent , may open the door to other single-sex school proposals.

And while officials say they're focusing on Garfield Park and the South Shore, other locations are likely to be considered.

"We are wide open," Duncan says. "There are tremendous ideas. We're looking for a multitude of options."

One of those options may include expanding Englewood. The Urban Prep Charter Academy opened in 2006, and this year 550 applied for 150 spots. The school's students begin each day reciting the school's creed. Before Monday's press conference began, a group of students, dressed in suits and red ties, stood on a stage and recited it.

"It's just a brotherhood," says Tyler Beck, president of the sophomore class.

Duncan remembers Englewood as a different place when he was in the auditorium four years ago.

"People thought we were going to have the school boarded up, people thought we were giving up. It was a very, very tough meeting," Duncan says. "I can't tell you how much this means to me."

Community information sessions

April 21, 5:30-7 p.m.: Bessemer Park, 8930 S. Muskegon

April 22, 5:30-7 p.m., South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 South Shore Drive

April 23, 5:30-7 p.m., Garfield Park Fieldhouse, 100 N. Central Park Ave.

May 7, 5:30-7 p.m.: Bessemer Park, 8930 S. Muskegon

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.