A private religious high school in Tri-Taylor that’s been described by its founder as “overtly and unapologetically Christian” may soon become secular.
Chicago Public Schools is considering a proposal from administrators at Chicago Hope Academy, 2189 W. Bowler on the West Side, to open a public school in its existing location.
Bob Muzikowski, the school’s president and founder, said the collapse of financial markets has resulted in fewer contributions to the school, which opened three years ago. The school relies on tuition and donations to cover its annual operating budget of $2.5 million. Tuition is more than $12,000 annually. A roughly $5,000 scholarship is available for all students, as is additional financial aid. The remaining cost per student is covered by donations. Muzikowski said new sources of funding are necessary for the school to remain open and expand to serve more students.
“If money wasn’t a factor, we wouldn’t be talking to CPS,” said Muzikowski to approximately 50 people at a recent community forum held at the school.
Hope Academy is seeking approval to become a contract school through the district’s Renaissance 2010 program. Contract schools are independently-operated, managed by a nonprofit organization, and operate pursuant to Illinois education standards. The plan is still in proposal stage, waiting approval by the Chicago Board of Education and school administrators. If the school becomes public, taxpayers will help shoulder the burden, at a cost of $7,000 to $9,000 per student, though the school will still need to raise more than $500,000 annually, Muzikowski estimated.
More significantly, the school will have to drop its Christian mission. That prospect is upsetting to parents like Austin resident Dianne Johnson. Her son was part of the school’s first graduating class this spring. Her daughter is also a freshman there. Johnson chose Hope Academy because of its Christian values and worries the school will lose its faith as more students with non-Christian beliefs enroll. Johnson is trying to make the best of the situation.
“I really don’t want to support it, but I feel like I have to because I really don’t want to see the school close either,” she said.
Muzikowski assured parents nothing will change academically, maintaining the goal of sending every graduate to a college will remain. But other changes are coming. Single-sex classrooms will be nixed, and the school will only serve students living in the city. Current and prospective students will have to participate in a lottery system for enrollment, and Bible study will be offered outside of regular school hours.
The school serves 181 students, and administrators say it could comfortably handle 240. Further expansion would be subject to approval by the Illinois Medical District, where the school is located. Bible passages hang from the walls and the chapel that doubles as an auditorium, which is lined with stained-glass windows depicting religious figures. These aspects are unlikely to be remodeled anytime soon.
English teacher Rebecca Kleszyk said part of her mission is to teach students about having a personal relationship with Christ. Kleszyk explained she draws energy in the classroom from sharing her religious beliefs with students, which will be hampered if the school folds into CPS.
“I feel the proposal will totally undermine the mission of Chicago Hope Academy,” Kleszyk said, adding that she and her colleagues were abruptly presented with the proposal the morning of the community forum.
The Chicago Board of Education will vote on the proposal at its regular Oct. 22 meeting. CPS will hold another public hearing on Hope Academy’s future from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday Oct. 4 at Manning Library, 6 S. Hoyne.