Thursday, Dec 18, 2014
Quincy, IL News - QuincyJournal.com
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New Chicago high school to be named for Obama

7 months, 3 weeks ago Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah and John Byrne, Tribune Reporters

300 additional freshmen seats

From Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah and John Byrne, Tribune Reporters:

Chicago students vying for hard-to-get spots in the city's most competitive public high schools will get a new selective enrollment high school named after President Barack Obama.

For parents frustrated with a gut-wrenching process that some have compared to getting their child into an Ivy League school, 300 additional freshmen seats come as welcome news.

“A lot of parents in the city will be happy to know there's more school seats in a central location,” said Rebecca Labowitz, who runs the “cpsobsessed” blog, frequently filled with comments from parents about the district's selective enrollment admissions process.

Her son, a 5th grader, will be a freshman the year Barack Obama College Preparatory High School is scheduled to open in the fall of 2017. Located just north of Skinner North Classical School, near the former Cabrini-Green public housing complex, the school will pick about 70 percent of its students from throughout the city through the competitive selective enrollment process, and the remaining from the neighborhood.

For Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the announcement, coupled with an earlier University of Chicago study released Thursday showing more freshmen are on track to graduate high school, was an opportunity to celebrate a new course for Chicago Public Schools.

“For the first time in the city of Chicago, I get to say that (U.S. Education) Secretary (William) Bennett, who in 1987 said the city of Chicago is the worst public school system in America, you're wrong. Dead wrong,” Emanuel said.

The freshmen-on-track graduation rate has gone up from 57 percent in 2007 to 82 percent, according to the University of Chicago study, which was touted by Emanuel's office today.

Mayoral critics noted the $60 million high school was announced a day after CPS voted to turn over management of three failing schools in impoverished neighborhoods on the city's West and South Sides to a private organization. They contend that instead of investing more resources in top-tier schools that serve a small number of students, the money should be used to help neighborhood schools across the city, many of which saw severe budget cuts this school year.

Some also wondered why Obama College Prep was not being built on the South Side in the president's Kenwood neighborhood or in the community where First Lady Michelle Obama grew up, rather than among well-to-do North Siders. The mayor last fall announced a $17 million addition for another top tier school, Walter Payton College Prep, located nearby.

“He's clearly trying to satisfy a certain demographic by putting in another selective enrollment school right near another one,” said Wendy Katten with parent group Raise Your Hand. “This is only going to impact a small percentage of students. It's not going to address a citywide need for strong neighborhood high schools.”

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