Years ago, when South Loop Elementary School was built, boundaries were drawn that excluded and separated black children from their peers. At the same time, more students have become a part of the Near South community, and we wanted to make sure that all of them have access to a high quality, diverse neighborhood option from pre-K to 12th grade. Throughout this process, this has has been personal priority of mine to correct the historical wrong at South Loop and open the doors of all high achieving schools to students nearby.
In fact, studies show that when students of diverse backgrounds learn together, all students fare better. According to in-depth academic research, inclusive classrooms yield some of the highest returns of all possible educational interventions. The near south community will be home to a set of high quality neighborhood school options from pre-K to high school that serves students of all backgrounds. With this in mind, several months ago we began talking to the community about how to best accomplish these goals.
So today, CPS is taking a big step toward building a diverse and academically excellent set of neighborhood school options for families in the near south community. In order to create the approximately 1,300 new seats for near south children, CPS will recommend to the Board of Education that the southern boundary for South Loop Elementary School move south to 22nd Street. We will also recommend that National Teachers Academy begin transitioning from an elementary school to a neighborhood high school.
Pending approval, beginning in the fall of 2019, NTA would accept its first freshman class, so rising second graders through seventh graders in SY17-18 will be able to continue their academic careers at NTA until they graduate from high school. Younger students will be transitioned to the new South Loop Elementary in fall 2019. Together, South Loop Elementary School and NTA High School will be some of the most diverse and academically excellent schools in the city – and country.
We did not make this decision lightly, and we believe this is in the best interest of the entire community. We’re making this announcement today because we believe it was important to make a decision so that we could move forward together, and have an authentic dialogue with community members to ensure that questions are truly explore and answered together.
Families from all over the near south area will now be able to send their children to a high quality neighborhood school from pre-K all the way through to high school graduation. We envision a neighborhood elementary and high school that will serve all families and reflect the rich cultural diversity of the near south area.
Building Diverse, Academically Excellent Schools
Building strong diverse schools is hard work, but our children will ultimately benefit from it. Once the new student body is brought together, it will be more diverse and academically stronger than the former South Loop and NTA student bodies, and we will work with experts in the field to ensure we have an equity plan so that this proposal lives up to those goals.
Near South Will Finally Get a Neighborhood High School
The near south community will also get the high quality neighborhood school that it has needed for the past 40 years. Students from the community currently travel on average three miles simply to attend high school and this proposal will ensure that kids in the neighborhood get to stay in their neighborhood and attend high school with their peers. For decades, families in the near south community have been clamoring for a strong neighborhood high school. This proposal will create a high school ready to serve near south high school students starting the fall of 2019.
What Does This Mean for Current NTA Students?
Change can be both exciting and stressful, but we know that the students of NTA and South Loop will learn and grow together with enthusiasm. This transition will be a gradual process, and we want families to be involved. As we prepare to open the new South Loop, we will need your thoughts on transportation, after-school programming, and other critical factors that go into creating a dynamic and successful school.
Your voices have been particularly important in shaping this proposal, which has evolved over time to include this gradual transition plan. Your voices have been and will continue to be important because we want to make this transition as smooth as possible for your children while giving them the best academic opportunities we have.
NTA students who are entering grades 2-7 this school year will be welcome to stay at NTA through high school if they wish. Younger students will transition to the new South Loop Elementary when it opens in fall 2019.
Success Starts with Engaged Parents
When we bring these school communities together, we will be creating a learning environment that is more diverse, more equitable, and more academically robust. Still, we understand that parts of the transition will be challenging, which is why we hope that families continue to stay engaged every step of the way.
Just as we have throughout this process, CPS will hold several more community meetings before this proposal is voted on by the Board of Education. We want to hear from families in the near south community about their concerns, and welcome their feedback on issues such as transportation, after-school programming, and other factors that go into building a dynamic and successful school.
I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the NTA families who voiced their concerns about the proposed transition. Through the three community meetings and several personal, individual meetings that my team and I have had with the NTA community, you made strong and impassioned arguments for keeping NTA as it is. We heard you, and changed amended our original proposal to ensure that the transition happens as smoothly as possible with minimal impact to the classroom. The building may change but we are going to work with you to ensure that your community is preserved and strengthened.
Every student in the near south community deserves to have high-quality options and our proposal will achieve this goal by providing a continuum of strong neighborhood schools to serve these children from the day they start pre-K until the day they graduate from high school.
You can see the entire near south proposal by visiting cps.edu/nearsouth.
I am excited about these new educational options, and look forward to continuing the conversation on how best to serve the children of our near south community.
Dr. Janice K. Jackson
Chief Education Officer