The Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy (ABEA) officially opened this week in the Austin High School building, 231 N. Pine.

A freshman class of 250 students started classes on Tuesday. On Monday, students received orientation on the school’s policies. The academy is the first of three schools slated for the former Austin High School building. Two additional small schools, to be chosen by Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan, are scheduled to open in 2007 and 2008.

The Austin Business Academy is one of 100 schools expected to open at converted school buildings under the Renaissance 2010 school restructuring plan. The former Austin High School stopped taking freshman students in 2004. The school’s last senior class will graduate in 2007.

On Monday, the ABEA, hosted more than 300 people, including its freshman class and their parents, at an afternoon ceremony to open the school, operated by American Quality Schools, a non-profit organization that operates charter schools.

AQS, the Westside Ministers Coalition, and the Allstate Corporation, also a major financial backer, are partnering in the new school.

“It’s a really important thing for me,” said Michael Bakalis, president and CEO of AQS, and a former state superintendent of schools. “I grew up in Austin, I went to this school, I worked four years here, and I graduated from this school. This is a very important thing to get this off the ground.”

Allstate presented a check for $500,000, as part of the Renaissance Schools Fund, to the school and its principal, Diane English, at Monday’s ceremony. The school will also receive partial funding from CPS on a per pupil basis. Under Ren 2010, charter schools open with a freshman class in the first year, adding a new class each year after. The ABEA will eventually have a total of 600 students in grades 9-12.

The school will start with 15 teachers this fall and 23 students per class, said Bakalis.

The curriculum, he said, will include the basics, but the focus is on preparing students to become business owners and community leaders.

“The school will prepare kids to go to college if that’s what they want to do-it is a college curriculum-but our goal is to get some of these kids to start thinking about opening their own businesses, and staying in the Austin community,” Bakalis said. “That’s what we want to do, help revitalize businesses in the Austin community.”

To accomplish that, the school will use Wednesdays for workshops, seminars, guest speakers and field trips centered around business and entrepreneurship. Regular classes will take place on the remaining days of the week.

The school will also place students in internships with area businesses.

“We intend to be hands on,” said Ade Onayemi, CEO of Urban Resources Inc. and member of the Austin African American Business Networking Association, one of the community partners of the school.

Onayemi, a former Oak Park school board president, said his architectural firm, located in Austin, will serve as an internship site.

“We’re going to be mentoring and providing after-school efforts for the students so not only are they learning in the class, but they also see what’s going on in real life,” he said. “I’m enthused. With the beginning of any endeavor, I am always very excited and have high expectations. Now we have to get to the doing.”

Other attendees at Monday’s event included State Sen. Don Harmon (Dist. 39), State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (Dist. 4), 15th District Police Cmdr. Al Wysinger, Ald. Ed Smith (28th), Rev. Lewis Flowers of the Westside Ministers Coalition, and CPS representatives.

Officials from Austin High School, including Principal Anthony Scott, also attended.

WGCI radio host Victor Blackful, better know to Chicago radio listeners as “The Diz,” one half of the popular Bad Boyz duo with co-host Mike Love, was a special guest Monday.

“You all have a very wonderful opportunity here that you should seize,” he told the students.

The Austin school campus received at $3 million renovation, including new lockers, desks, and chairs. More than half of Ren 2010 schools serve black students. Black and Latino students make up the majority of students attending Ren 2010 charter schools. Since 2004, nearly half of the 100 schools scheduled to open by the year 2010 have launched.

“Austin is not closing,” said Malcolm Crawford, executive director of the AAABNA, and director of external communications for the Business Academy. “We have programs for the kids to help them become successful in life and business.”

For more information about The Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy and its parent partners, visit or call 773/534-6316