It seems that few people believe in neighborhood public high schools these days. And that’s unfortunate because neighborhood schools are central to building a better Chicago that benefits every resident. To have a city of strong neighborhoods, we need strong neighborhood public high schools.
In Chicago, these schools serve over 47,000 students, or 42.5% percent of all CPS 9th – 12 graders. No other type of high school serves this many students.
The opening of 52 new high schools in the last 12 years has led to declining enrollment at many neighborhood public high schools. Still, these schools, which serve students of all abilities and backgrounds, continue to play an important role in our city. They act as community anchors, increase neighborhood cohesion, and have the potential to guarantee a high quality education.
We know that students and their families are overwhelmed by the stress and anxiety that comes from selective school testing, the charter lottery gamble, and the uncertainty of not knowing which schools are actually doing well beyond test scores. Families that have the means turn to private schools or move to the suburbs in search of a guarantee that their children will receive a high quality education without the admissions madness.
Other families, those with the least wealth and most burdens, don’t even engage in the high school application process. Mary Pattillo’s research on Chicago school choice demonstrates that these families face challenges to playing the school choice game including a lack of information, resources and time needed to apply, concerns about their child’s safety outside their neighborhood, and the inability to pay for travel to a school beyond their community. These families rely on their neighborhood schools.
If a better system of safe, high quality neighborhood public schools existed today, countless families that might otherwise leave the city would remain in Chicago, and all students, regardless of income or zip code, would have guaranteed access to a phenomenal education.
The fact is that many Chicagoans do believe in neighborhood public high schools. Across the city, numerous individuals, schools, universities and organizations are dedicated to making these schools powerful charging stations for youth. They’re training principals and their teams to foster school climates of trust and high expectations, developing the capacity of teachers to employ the Next Generation Science Standards, giving students learning experiences beyond their neighborhoods, strengthening relationships between elementary and high schools so students transition seamlessly into ninth grade, working on getting students to and through college, and empowering parents to be the strongest advocates for their children. The district has been a partner in several of these efforts. Unfortunately, the commitment and resources haven’t been maintained.
Our city ought to celebrate and replicate these efforts system-wide with sustainable, long-term investments. Instead, the current climate of unbridled school competition has diverted resources and support away from neighborhood schools, putting them on an unequal playing field and exacerbating our city’s social inequality.
The result? A system of high schools deeply segregated by race, class, and opportunity that perpetuate our city’s glaring disparities in youth unemployment and violence. Strong neighborhood public high schools can disrupt these disparities by providing high quality learning opportunities for students both in and out the classroom, grounding them in their communities and connecting them to the wider world.
It is time to put our neighborhood public high schools front and center. We can start by putting a hold on opening or closing any high schools until our city engages in a planning process that includes educators, community residents, and city planners to determine the right number and placement of schools.
This is just the first step in ensuring all our students receive the education they deserve.
Generation All and a growing network of partners invite every Chicagoan to rally around our neighborhood public high schools. Get to know them. Find a way to partner with them. Talk with principals and teachers about the policies that make their work easier, and those that get in the way. Pay attention and speak up when issues affecting neighborhood schools are in the news or on the agenda.
We know that that tomorrow’s skilled workforce, tomorrow’s informed citizens, tomorrow’s engaged parents and tomorrow’s visionary leaders can come from today’s students. All of them. To shake Chicago’s reputation as a tale of two cities, we must invest in our neighborhood public high schools.
Beatriz Ponce de León, Generation All
Karen Lewis, Chicago Teachers Union
Sam Dyson, Mozilla Hive Chicago Learning Network
Ameya Pawar, 47th Ward
Terri Pigott, Loyola University Chicago
Jenny Arwade, Communities United
Sylvia Puente, Latino Policy Forum
Wendy Katten, Raise Your Hand
Melissa Mitchell, Federation for Community Schools
Karen Boran, John Hancock College Prep High School
Nancy Aardema, Logan Square Neighborhood Association
Ted Christians, Umoja Student Development Corporation
Sarah Duncan & Mary Ann Pitcher, Network for College Success
Katya Nuques, Enlace Chicago
Maricela Garcia, Gads Hill Center
Michael Perkins, Chicago Public Schools
Patrick Brosnan, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council
Sarah Makela, GROWCommunity
Charles Tocci, Loyola University Chicago
Imran Khan, Embarc
Fernando Kim, Gunsaulus Scholastic Academy
Peter Auffant, Shields Middle School
George Szkapiak, Kennedy High School
Sara Haas, Brighton Park Elementary
Susan Daly Rodriguez, Shields Elementary
Rich Morris, Burroughs Elementary
Marian Strok, Evergreen Academy Middle School
Brian Metcalf, Gage Park High School
Jeff Bartow, Southwest Side Organizing Project
Nia Abdullah, Bowen High School
Durrell Anderson, Richards Career Academy
Rachel Shefner, Loyola University Chicago
Rituparna Raichoudhuri, Wells Community Academy High School
Allison Tingwall, Curie Metro High School
Kevin Gallick, George Washington High School
Amy Rasmussen, Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education
Kara Kennedy, Lumity
Jack Wuest, Alternative Schools Network
Maurice Swinney, Tilden Career Community Academy High School
Mindy Faber, Convergence Academies
Lake View High School Partners
James Coughlin, Kelly High School
Elizabeth Álvarez, John C. Dore Elementary
Pauline Lipman, University of Illinois – Chicago, College of Education
Richard Rutschman, Center for College Access & Success/Northeastern Illinois University
Janise Hurtig, University of Illinois – Chicago
Stacy Wenzel, Loyola University Chicago
Katherine Konopasek, retired, Stevenson Elementary School
Stephen Reynolds, Friends of Amundsen
Jeanne Marie Olson, CPS Apples to Apples
Daniel Kramer, Carl Schurz High School
Will Guzzardi, 39th District
Linda Brazdil, Loyola University Chicago
Matt O’Shea, 19th Ward
Dakota Pawlicki, Chicago Public Schools
Rachel Allmen, Friends of Schurz
Elizabeth Skinner, Illinois State University
Bertha G. Magaña
If you would like to sign on in support of this letter, please contact Misuzu Schexnider at email@example.com.