January 24, 2006

U of C will open door to South Side with charter school

Following the success of the North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School, the U of C—which is the nation’s only private university to operate several charter schools—plans on taking additional steps in urban education reform with the opening of a new charter high school campus in September 2006.

The charter school campus, which will serve residents of Woodlawn and other South Side neighborhoods, will open with grades 6 and 9, each with two classes, and add additional grades every year until it is eventually grades 6 through 12. The name of the school has yet to be determined.

The proposed site for the school is an underused Woodlawn elementary school, which currently has the capacity to serve 2,000 students but has an enrollment of 320 students, in the Woodlawn neighborhood.

“When looking at potential sites, there was a high demand amongst Woodlawn residents for a charter school in their neighborhood,” said Linda Wing, deputy director of the Center for Urban School Improvement. Chicago Public Schools is in charge of finalizing the school’s site, which is expected to be disclosed next week. The specific school chosen will remain confidential until then.

A unique feature of the charter school’s intensive college-preparatory curriculum will be the Signature Project, a year-long intensive research project in which students study issues related to their own neighborhood.

“The students will be able to choose a project from three main areas of study: the history of the South Side, politics of the South Side, and environmental issues,” Wing said. Students will work collaboratively with teachers, Ph.D. students from the University, and even with faculty members and undergraduate students. The project provides students with education about their neighborhood and its development.

Unlike North Kenwood/Oakland charter school or the Donoghue School, the Woodlawn charter school will be a neighborhood school, and will therefore have a specific attendance zone. A majority of the students are expected to be residents of the Woodlawn neighborhood, while technically any students from the South Side or the City of Chicago could apply to attend the school.

“While the percent of students who qualify for the free lunch program at North Kenwood/Oakland and Donoghue are 75 percent and 85 percent respectively, we expect that it will be much higher for this new school,” Wing said.

With an intense focus on preparing high school students for college and a close relationship with the University, students graduating from the charter school will be eligible for five scholarships offered to Chicago Public School students by the College, according to John Boyer, dean of the College.

Barbara Crock, a Ph.D. student at Harvard University, has accepted the position of director of the new school. Crock brings experience teaching math to public school students in Chicago, San Francisco, and elsewhere.

“She has had excellent success getting students prepared and we are very excited to have her as director,” Wing said.

The establishment of the new charter school is a collaboration between Chicago Public Schools and the Center for Urban School Improvement, which was established in 1988 by the University to provide assistance for literacy programs. It will provide help for new teachers and is actively involved in professional education initiatives in Area 15 on the South Side.

The Center has been involved in the successful establishment of two charter elementary schools on the South Side, the North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School located at 1119 East 46th Street, and the Donoghue Charter School which opened last September, located at 707 East 37th Street.

“By creating a pre-Kindergarten through grade 12 pathway of excellent schools for children on the South Side of Chicago, the Center for Urban School Improvement intends to demonstrate that it is high-quality instruction provided to every child, every day, in every classroom—not race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status—that leads to children’s academic success,” Wing said.