ENGLEWOOD — Tensions rose when Englewood residents gathered Tuesday night to discuss a proposed $75 million high school for the neighborhood.
The Resident Association of Greater Englewood hosted a meeting at Johnson College Prep, 6350 S. Stewart. The new school was one of several topics on the agenda, but it stirred up the most controversy.
While the organization’s president, Aysha Butler, was still greeting the group of about 50, members of Action Now, a grassroots community organization, began shouting out questions and speaking over her.
“Does RAGE support the closing of schools,” a member asked.
Butler calmly explained that they would address the new high school later in the night, but some members of Action Now ignored her and continued to pressure her to address their question. Eventually they were asked to leave because they wouldn’t cooperate.
“We feel guilty we allowed this to happen,” Butler said about the declining enrollment at the neighborhood schools. “This is devastating for Englewood and not a time to argue.”
Chicago Public Schools revealed details in June of a new $75 million high school for the Englewood neighborhood, a proposal that would merge four schools into a new building at Robeson High School. CPS is describing the school as “state of the art” — with plans to open it by the 2019-2020 school year. The school would be an open-enrollment neighborhood high school.
Butler said that RAGE doesn’t have an official position, but that its members have mixed views. Personally, she said, she’s against CPS closing schools, but she stressed that she doesn’t want to see Englewood’s students continue to suffer academically either.
She is one of 13 members of the newly formed steering committee put together by CPS to help get community ideas for the new high school planned for Englewood. In that role Butler has met directly with students in Englewood. She said that some don’t even have science classes or art, which would be offered at the new high school.
“The city has failed these students,” she said. “We have failed them the way we’ve allowed this broke system to continue in our city and so this is our outcome, that basically the community doesn’t have a neighborhood school.”
Compared to last year, enrollment has declined at four Englewood high schools, according to CPS data that was distributed at the meeting.
Teamwork Englewood High School lost almost half of its student population this year. Last year there were 160 students, but this year only 92 enrolled.
Harper High School had 167 students last year, but this year there are 134 enrolled.
Hope High School dropped from 136 students to just 95.
And lastly, Robeson High School had 151 students, but now only 128 attend the school.
Enrollment is so low because the majority of students living in the Englewood high school boundary, 92 percent, have chosen to attend a different high school, according to CPS data.
For example, 2,177 students live in Robeson’s attendance boundary, but 4.6 percent actually attend the school.
“I don’t want to see any schools close,” Butler said. “I’m very clear about that, but I don’t want to see these young people suffer because of our lack of organizing, our lack of caring, being strategic and not stepping up in front of this when we saw that we were losing public school systems.”
As a member of the steering committee she said she will bring suggestions and ideas back to CPS.
Dori Collins, co-chair of the Englewood Community Action Council (CAC), and also a part of the steering committee, said that they’re discussing how to make this a smooth transition.
“Many of the students said they want a small environment because they felt safer,” she said.
Butler added that they want to help make the first class as comfortable as possible. They are considering safety measures like special buses to help students safely get to school.
In the past, parents have expressed safety issues, saying that they don’t want their child crossing gang territory or sitting in class with someone who doesn’t like them.
Others in attendance had questions about employment. Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) addressed the construction and jobs question, saying that Ujamaa Construction will lead the construction.
“There will be several hiring events,” Sawyer said, adding that he’s excited to see more jobs come to the community.