The private entity that runs the Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy has decided not to renew its contract to oversee the 5-year-old high school.

That means, as of June, the academy will no longer be independently run and will become a part of the Chicago Public Schools system.

CPS officials and those from American Quality Schools, which oversees ABEA as well as elementary schools in Chicago and other states, met with parents and ABEA staff at a meeting last night. A packed audience filled the auditorium of the Austin High School campus at 231 N. Pine.

Contrary to a story by the Chicago Tribune last week reporting that the high school was closing in June, officials at last night’s meeting insisted that ABEA would remain open but will now become a
CPS school.

Business Academy was among Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Renaissance 2010 schools, consisting of performance, contract or charter schools that replaced underperforming public schools within the CPS system. ABEA will become the first of those schools to transition out of Ren 2010 and fall under CPS.

Parents at Wednesday night’s meeting expressed concerns about the future of the school and its teachers.

Robert Runcie, an official with
CPS, said the teachers would have to reapply to work at the school now that it’s under CPS. Runcie explained that certain qualifications and certifications are required for teachers to work under CPS.

Still, many parents felt that if their teachers were qualified to work at ABEA then they should be qualified to work with
CPS and should automatically retained in the “new” ABEA.

But under the Ren 2010 system, the organizations that run those schools hire their own teachers. All of the ABEA teachers are employed by American Quality Schools. And those instructors are not necessarily required to have specific state-mandated teacher certificates to work at a public school. That point has also been one of the concerns of opponents to the privately-run charter school concept.

Runcie told parents that
CPS would try to hire as many of the current teachers as possible but could not guarantee how many or who they would be.

A question was asked about the school’s current principal Jasmine Mitchell, who’s been at the school for several months now. The CPS officials did not say definitively if she would be retained at the new ABEA but said she’d continue on during the transition process.

As for the students, officials said the current senior class will graduate this June and will not be affected by the change. Certain programs at the school will also remain unchanged. Students, they insist, will not be displaced to other schools and that new programs will be added.

Runcie told Austin Weekly News after the meeting that this transition will help strengthen the academic program at the high school.

More change for oft-changed school

Several parents expressed support and appreciation for ABEA’s principal and teachers, accompanied by numerous moments of applause.   

ABEA opened in 2006. It was the first of Daley’s “small schools” to open on the campus.
Austin High School closed in 2004, targeted as an under-performing school. Its leadership was removed and many students would soon be displaced to other Chicago area schools. Two more schools would open on the Austin High School campus following ABEA – Austin Polytechnical Academy and VOISE Academy. Those schools will continue to be run as performance schools under the guise of CPS.

ABEA, however, has experienced turnover in teachers and leadership since it opened, including the hiring and departures of several teachers and at least four principals prior to Mitchell’s arrival.

But several parents at last night’s meeting said their kid’s grades improved after enrolling at the school.

Business Academy also opened with several community partners, including the Westside Ministers Coalition. Rev. Lewis Flowers, the coalition’s co-founder and current chair, told parents at last night’s meeting that Austin High School would have closed for good without those partnerships.

AQS will operate the
Business Academy until July 1.  


Editor’s Note: Austin Weekly News in this week’s paper published a story about the “closing of the Austin Business Academy” based on reporting by another newspaper. The story has been pulled from our website and replaced with one reporting that the school, according to CPS, is not closing but instead will no longer be run by a private entity as a contract school.