As Austin High School’s 2006 senior class approaches the end of its last year at the school in June, the campus’ new Renaissance 2010 school hopes to have its new class in place this summer for a fall 2006 opening.
The Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy will open the 2006-2007 school year on the Austin High School campus, 231 N. Pine, with a total of 200 freshmen students, said Michael Bakalis, CEO of American Quality Schools.
American Quality Schools has charter schools in Chicago and Indiana. The Chicago-based corporation is partnering with the Westside Ministers Coalition, the Austin African-American Business Networking Association and Allstate Insurance in bringing the new school to the Austin community.
“We’re recruiting and marketing for students,” said Bakalis, an Austin graduate from the 1950s. “We’re reaching out to parents and students to talk about what the school will have and what parents want.” Bakalis is a former state superintendent of schools, former president of Triton College in River Grove, and previously ran for governor of Illinois.
Austin High School stopped accepting freshmen in 2003 under the mayor’s Renaissance 2010 school restructuring plan to close underperforming schools and reopen them as a cluster of smaller schools. Austin has one remaining senior class scheduled for graduation in 2007.
The Business and Entrepreneur Academy is one of three schools slated for the Austin campus. A dozen closed schools on the West and South sides have reopened with at least three small charter, contract or performance schools located in the buildings.
Two additional schools will be chosen for Austin by 2007. Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan will make the final decision, according to Renaissance 2010 guidelines.
Bakalis said new faculty are currently being interviewed for the business school. Funding for the school will come from the city on a per-pupil basis.
The business school expects to have a first-year total enrollment of 200 freshmen with a new class added thereafter each year, said Bakalis.
He said the new school has a proposal to CPS to establish several advisory committees for such constituency groups as parents, faculty, students and local business leaders.
“We want broad community involvement,” Bakalis said.
The Austin campus, he added, will have several sports teams, including basketball and football, comprised of students from each of the small schools.
A tentative deadline for accepting freshman applications at the Austin Business Academy is June 1. Under Renaissance 2010 guidelines, new schools cannot accept more than 200 freshmen in its first year. If more than 200 applications are received, a lottery will take place with preference given to students living in Austin, said Bakalis.
A total of 100 new schools are scheduled to open by 2010 under the city’s plan. Critics, including the Chicago Teacher’s Union have ravaged Renaissance 2010, calling it a “union busting” plan. Critics have also cited the increase in violence at schools accepting students from consolidated schools. 2010 schools opened in the last two years include South Side New Millennium School of Health at the former Bowen High School at 2710 E. 89th St.
A number of West Side schools have closed or are slated to close and reopen as small schools. Excel/Future Teachers Academy and Applied Arts, Science and Technology Academy opened at the former Orr High School at 730 N. Pulaski. The Al Raby School for Community and Environment opened at the former Flower High School at 3545 W. Fulton.
In January, CPS announced that it would close four more schools, including Collins High School, 1313 S. Sacramento and Frazier Elementary School, 4027 W. Grenshaw on the West Side. CPS is hoping to open a new school on the Collins campus by fall 2007.
West Side aldermen and community activists have called for a halt to school closings and for an independent study on the impact the school closings are having on students. On March 13, Austin parents and activists hosted a protest and prayer vigil outside Austin High School concerning violence associated with the school closings.
“We feel like the answer is not closing these schools but going inside the schools, figuring out what the problem is and going in to fix the problems,” said Khalid Johnson, a coordinator with the Westside Health Authority, who organized last week’s vigil. “Right now, CPS is only addressing the symptom of the problem. They’re not dealing with the causes of the problem.”