My neighbors in the South Loop are mad at Rahm and mad at Chicago Public Schools. They want a neighborhood high school to call their own--and they thought they had picked out a perfect spot. But Rahm and CPS just turned them down. And I think I may be responsible for what's getting the South Loop all worked up.
It all started when CPS decided to build a new Jones College Prep--next door to the old one at Harrison and State on the site of the old Pacific Garden Mission. The mission wound up moving about a mile and a half to the southwest. CPS wanted more room for students and more room for school activities. They used neighborhood TIF money for the project. The new building is coming along and will be ready for gifted students from around the city in September.
The question became what to do with the old Jones building, which I always said was a mid-century masterpiece in the neighborhood, a building that had had a lot of money spent on it through the years--and made a great architectural statement. It was harrowing that it looked for a while that it would be torn down in order to straighten out Harrison Street at State--a crooked intersection that I must admit can be a bit dangerous for pedestrians if drivers get the least bit distracted.
But my fellow South Loopers had other ideas. Their TIF money was building the new magnet school for the entire city and they felt cheated. They wanted the old building to live on and become a neighborhood high school, thereby providing safety and high academic standards for the regular Joe-type kids who live in the area. As it is, CPS is only going to allow 300 students from the neighborhood to attend the new Jones--unless they happen to test-in vis a vis a very rigorous and stringent academic examination.
I wrote about the old Jones and its future a number of times in the past. I desperately wanted the unique and attractive building to be preserved. I wrote about the first time a public official stated that the future of the building would probably be under a wrecking ball to make way for a straightened Harrison Street. And I also wrote about what a crazy idea that really was. But the kicker may have been a column I wrote last year in favor of saving the old school building, in which I gave Rahm and CPS ideas that may have provided a foundation for what happened this week: the old school will be part of the new. All one big selective enrollment school. The school is saved--but not for the neighborhood!
I speculated that even though it would be nice to have our own neighborhood high school, maybe South Loopers could, as an alternative, invade the low-performing high school that is their neighborhood high school and make it better. I also speculated that the old Jones building could be saved to expand Jones College Prep for the city as a whole and/or for more seats for "regular" students from the South Loop--providing a reason for more families from the South Loop and elsewhere to stay within the city limits.
Rahm is now spouting this stuff as if he thought it of it himself.
The sad thing is that many of my neighbors with kids are now giving up, feeling betrayed. And while they are glad to have been given a chance to fight City Hall, they are so disappointed that they lost the battle they are looking for homes in the suburbs where the high schools are free and good.
In a way I'm sorry I ever came up with aforementioned ideas because good people are threatening to abandon the South Loop. But there are two ideas they should think about before giving up all hope: why not invade the existing neighborhood high school and make it a whole lot better? Or demand more "regular" seats from CPS at the new Jones; after all, they now have a second building to work with--and dole out seats in. Remind them, neighbors, it was your TIF money that built the new building.