VOISE (Virtual Opportunities Inside a School Environment) Academy High School was approved as the third small Austin Campus high school by the Chicago Board of Education on Oct. 24. The vote honored the consensus of the Austin Transition Advisory Council (Austin TAC) to recommend VOISE as the third school. VOISE Academy High School is scheduled to open fall 2008 under the leadership of Principal Eleanor Nickerson. VOISE Academy will be a Chicago Public School performance high school, and is the first virtual hybrid school in Illinois. The students will have to be present in school. They will access the online curriculum using laptop computers. A teacher will be present in the classroom to direct the curriculum, which will be available 24/7.

Members of the Austin TAC, formed in 2004, did not set out to make the TAC our “second career”, but we were determined to ensure that any potential school would make sense and provide both an innovative curriculum and support services for students. Regardless of how some individuals feel about the small school concept, the current two Austin campus schools – the Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy, and the The Austin Polytechnical Academy – both enroll locally. In fact, 95 percent of their enrollment are students who reside or attended an elementary school within the historical Austin High School attendance boundaries.

We are proud of the following proactive accomplishment during the Austin TAC’s tenure:

The Austin Campus is undergoing an overdue $30-plus million renovation that was the combined lobbying effort of the former Austin Local School Council, Austin TAC, West side Ministers Coalition, and South Austin Coalition. The renovations are not being done at the Austin Campus because of Ren 2010.

The Austin Campus has the only attendance policy of its kind in the CPS system, which gives students within the historical Austin attendance boundaries first choice of the seats within the Austin campus. All a parent or legal guardian has to do is sign a letter that simply states, “I want my child or children to attend a particular school at the Austin Campus.” The school operators can not request a student’s test scores, records, or IEP (Individualized Education Program) prior to acceptance. The operators have agreed to limit their recruiting to the Austin elementary schools.

No other high schools can “dump” their problem students at the campus. The school operators at the Austin campus must work with those students who chose to attend the campus. The operators can not expel students unless they are in severe violation of the CPS Uniform Code of Discipline. Students may transfer into a school at the campus.

The campus will field a combined sports program and will still compete as the Austin Tigers.

Two of the school operators are in the process of developing a relationship with the Austin elementary schools.

There will always be a need to hold all schools accountable. There is also a need for people to be consistently involved in our schools. TAC members are forming an Austin campus advisory council. The purpose of this council would be to monitor the schools on campus. I ask that any parent, Austin High School alumni and community stakeholders to please contact me at austin_youth@sbcglobal.net or 773/879-5216, if you are interested in serving on this advisory council for the Austin campus.