South Shore high school at center of dispute between community group, school district

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Community leaders say plans to shuffle students attending one South Side high school from one building to the next is nothing more than psychological abuse.

Community leaders say plans to shuffle students attending one South Side high school from one building to the next is nothing more than psychological abuse.

The brouhaha is over the South Shore high school campus and what the Chicago Public Schools plans to do with the students who are currently at the four schools that comprise it when the new school building opens. The campus is made up of School of Technology, School of the Arts, School of Leadership and School of Entrepreneurship. Two schools are located in the north building and two in the south building of the current location.

CPS will temporarily move students attending school in the north building, at 7529 S. Constance Ave., into the newly built building, 1955 E. 75th St., next month to make way for demolition of the north building for the creation of a park, said Terry Mazany, interim CEO for CPS.

“This is a temporary move for the students located in the north building. The building sits on park district property and they want to use the land to build a park for the community,” he told the Defender. “Students will remain in the new building until June and in September those students would move to the South Building in the old building across the street.”

But one community organization is crying foul over these plans.

“They (CPS) are playing with our children’s minds and that is not right. Why take kids and put them into a newly built school for six months and then send them back to the old building?” Henry English, president and chief executive officer for the Black United Fund of Illinois, a non-profit, social organization, questioned. “That’s like sending a kid to live in a mansion for six months and later shifting them to live in a one-bedroom apartment with five people.”

Further, BUFI is part of the New South Shore High School Organizing Committee which accused the school district of reneging on handshake-agreement plans between CPS and the community surrounding the school.

But Mazany told the Defender that CPS would honor the agreement it reached with the community on how to best utilize the new building and improve the school. One plan will change admission next fall to 60 percent selective enrollment and 40 percent general admission.

South Shore High School is located in the 8th Ward, which is represented by Alderman Michelle Harris, who did not return Defender calls seeking comment. She had expressed concern that currently, more students attending the South Shore campus schools are from outside of the area.

“One of the … big issues is that an alarming number of the kids enrolled at South Shore are from somewhere else,” she said in a press release put out by New South Shore High School Organizing Committee.

The group says that nearly three-fourths of the students at the four schools come from other communities and that over 90 percent of the students who live within the school’s boundaries choose not to go there.

Ald. Leslie Hairston, whose 5th Ward covers a portion of the South Shore community, wants the new school to be attractive to students in its boundaries. “My constituents pay taxes and they deserve to have the one high school in their community at least meet the educational needs of their children, so they don’t have to send them on two-hour treks everyday to get a quality education,” she said.

Other nearby public high schools are Hirsch Metropolitan, 7740 S. Ingleside Ave., Hyde Park Academy, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., and Chicago Vocational Career Academy, 2100 E. 87th St. There are charter high schools in the vicinity as well.

Hairston blasted Mazany’s assertion that CPS will honor its agreement with the community.

“We (the community) do not believe them. I do know what CPS is planning to do with our kids is unacceptable. Every report about children I have read expressed stability as an important factor in a child’s life,” the alderman said. “What they are planning to do (next month) is insane. If these people are supposed to be educators they sure aren’t showing it.”

She added that in the past when CPS had startup schools, for example on the North Side, this was not the process.

“But when it comes to our kids they want to treat them any kind of way. The community will not stand for this mistreatment,” she said. “The four smaller schools did not work so why continue down this road?”

And according to Hairston, the new school was built thanks to Tax Increment Financing money from her ward.

Historically, South Shore has had low-test scores and a high drop out rate, school district data indicates.

“The South Shore community is tired of producing kids who are not college bound and do nothing more but fall to the wayside after high school,” said David Robinson, a spokesman for the committee. “This is why we want to start from scratch and admit only freshmen next fall and go from there.”

But that’s exactly what CPS plans to do, Mazany said.

“We will begin phasing out the four smaller schools next fall and begin a new era at South Shore High School,” he said. “Our first class of students at the new building this fall will be freshmen. The next year will have freshmen and sophomores and so forth. Students currently attending the four smaller schools will be allowed to graduate. Once all students at the old building graduate the issue then becomes what to do with the building.”

Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender

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