In response to the outpouring of concern throughout the community regarding the future of Austin High School (231 N. Pine Ave.), several members of the Chicago Public Schools and political representatives from the 28th Ward held a meeting at the school. The meeting, which took place on July 21 at the high school, served to clear up the confusion about whether there was truth to the persistent rumor still floating around the community that the high school was going to be closed altogether.

The reality, however, is that Austin High School is the latest school from the West Side to be a part of the city’s Renaissance 2010 program, joining Lucy Flower and Westinghouse high schools among others that have been subdivided and reorganized or are about to be. The program revamps existing schools considered too big and too underachieving and will re-open them as 2-3 smaller schools within the same building, each school establishing its own academic curricula and identity.

Among those in attendance at the Austin High forum were 28th Ward Alderman Ed Smith, Rev. Lewis Flowers of the Westside Ministers Coalition, and James Deanes, school and community affairs officer for Chicago Public Schools.

“There were a few people attending the forum who were voicing skepticism about the Board of Education’s plans for the school,” said Deanes, who also sits on Austin High’s Transition Advisory Committee (TAC). “Some didn’t believe they would really open a new school. Others though were questioning the validity of the charter school concept, arguing defiantly against its effectiveness. However, research has always shown that charter schools are quite effective.”

Some of those in attendance wrote out their proposals for the Transition Advisory Committee. The committee will gather all proposals received and decide which ones best address the will and needs of the community. The committee is a group of about 15 community activists, CPS representatives and state representatives who hold weekly meeting to discuss proposals for the possible academic curricula the small schools will follow.

The deadline for members of the West Side to submit proposals is Aug. 19. At which time, the committee will narrow from a dozen or so proposals to around four and submit them to CPS Superintendent Arne Duncan. Duncan will choose the proposals that he views as the most beneficial to the area and submit his recommendation to the Board of Education sometime in October, beginning the process of establishing the schools.

The new Austin High configuration should be in place for the 2006-07 school year.

“We are the first TAC committee that actually called assemblies and conducted surveys amongst the Austin area middle schools just to get their opinions about the type of school they’d like to see in the area,” said Deanes. “We want to assure that the schools that are placed within the doors of Austin High School truly reflect the wishes of the entire community, especially the children who will be less inclined to partake in reoccurring absenteeism and tardiness if they truly enjoy learning what the school is teaching them.”

Among the suggestions from over 400 students from Austin area schools such as Duke Ellington, Spencer, and Nash are:

 School for Entrepreneurial and Business with possible focuses on cosmetology, computer science and technology, and the culinary arts.

 School for International Studies including a vocational exchange program.

 School of Health and Medical Science, with focuses on nursing, radiology, early childhood development and phlebotomy.

 School of FAME (Fine Arts Media and Entertainment), which would focus on broadcasting, fine arts like music and dance, as well as graphic design.

“We expect a decision to be made about the plans for Austin High School before the end of the year,” said Deanes. “The Board of Education hopes to start development early next year so that it can open its doors by next September. I am glad we held this forum so that the people of Austin know that we view remaking Austin High School as a total community effort, and their input is vital in deciding on what form of academia is the most practical and needed.”