A new Renaissance 2010 school for the Austin High School campus opening this fall has recruited 145 freshmen for careers in manufacturing.

Officials of the Austin Polytechnical Academy said the school is designed to revitalize the Austin community by preparing students for highly-skilled manufacturing jobs, as well as drawing manufacturing companies back into the Austin.

The school is the second of three Ren 2010 schools to open on the Austin school campus.

The Polytechnical Academy, a performance school, will join the Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy, a contract school that opened last fall, at 231 N. Pine. A third school has yet to open there.

Polytechnical Academy officials said their school will incorporate hands-on manufacturing experience into the traditional high school curriculum.

Usually, kids are groomed to leave the community to go to college and to find jobs, said Dan Swinney, executive director of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council (CMRC), one of the school’s founding organizations.

“The purpose of this school is to develop and rebuild the Austin community,” Swinney said.

The transition from the original high school to several small schools is part of the Renaissance 2010 plan to replace under performing elementary and high schools in the city with new, smaller schools by the year 2010. Nearly half of the proposed 100 new smaller schools has opened across the city.

The Austin Polytechnical Academy is the brainchild of Swinney.

A 2001 study conducted by his labor group showed that there are high-skilled, good-paying jobs in Chicago that are going unfilled because “there aren’t enough qualified applicants,” Swinney said.

After he met with Arne Duncan, CEO of Chicago Public Schools to talk about the schools’ role in filling the gap, Swinney’s organization applied to open a Renaissance 2010 performance school, which are CPS-run schools.

Swinney said Austin Polytechnical is unique nationally because it focuses on careers in manufacturing, while simultaneously preparing students for college.

“This is not a traditional vocational school by any means,” Swinney insists. “These are not menial factory assembly line jobs. We are preparing kids to go into advanced, highly skilled production positions and management.”

The curriculum, he said, will meet state standards for a high school education coupled with Project Lead the Way, a nationally recognized pre-engineer curriculum.

The first freshmen class has been recruited with 145 slated to attend in the fall, said Bill Gerstein, principal of Austin Polytechnical Academy.

Students are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis. No test scores are required to apply, said Gerstein.

The school recruited students from the Austin community, and has partnerships with 24 manufacturing companies that are expected to provide internship opportunities and summer jobs for students.

The program will introduce students to local companies through field trips and guest speakers, said Ray Prendergast, executive director of Jane Addams Resource Corporation.

“We hope to have paid internships for students in their junior and senior years at local manufacturing companies,” Prendergast said.

John Winzeler, president of Winzeler Gear, one of the company partners, said it is important for the school to find people that really want to work in manufacturing.

“We are involved in several aspects of the school through mentoring and meeting with students,” Winzeler said. “We will be providing job shadowing as well as advising faculty on curriculums.”

Charter: Independently operated public schools that have freedom from many state laws. Teachers and staff are employees of the nonprofit organization that governs the school.

Performance: CPS-run schools with freedom from and flexibility on many district initiatives and policies, but not state school laws. Teachers and staff are employees of CPS. Austin Polytechnical Academy is an example.

Contract: Managed by independent nonprofit organizations in accordance with a performance agreement between the organization and the Chicago Board of Education. They are free from many CPS policies and requirements, but are not free from state laws. Contract teachers and staff are employees of the nonprofit organization that governs the school. Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy is an example.

Austin's last class

The final senior class at Austin High School will graduate Saturday. Look for full coverage of the graduation and memories of the school from past and present students in next week's Austin Weekly News.