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Economic Segregation and Elite Schools

Dear Colleagues:

The following article appears on page one of today's Chicago Tribune. Here
are a few local notes before anyone gets gooey-eyed with praise over this $45
million innovation.

1. Chicago had enough high school buildings before this one was built. In
fact, the Daley administration had been closing down school buildings prior
to its 1995 takeover of the schools, despite overcrowding. Repairs and
maintenance in inner city high schools has always been a problem, however. At
my last school (Bowen, where I was teaching when they went after me for
publishing the CASE tests in January), most of the "capital development"
money for the school had gone into an expensive (and poorly executed) joint
venture with the YMCA. General repairs had been so bad that in one whole
building (more than 25 classrooms) the air conditioning hadn't worked
regularly for years and days in my classroom saw the temperature in the room
reach 95 degrees. Dozens of other inner city (poor) high schools in Chicago
are facing the same misplaced priorities, with crumbling buildings while a
"new" facility is created for the elites.

2. Please note that the school is not admitting any student with standardized
(Iowa) scores below the 6th stanine (60th percentile and up). That means two
things. First, under Chicago's "standards", this school can never "fail"
(i.e., have a large number of students "at or below the national average").
Second, the school will be drawing its students from other high schools on
the north side, whose pool of "above average" students will thereby decrease,
leaving them more and more vulnerable to sanctions from academic probation to

The hypocrisy of these things doesn't end with these facts. I will continue
publishing such items in Substance, but wanted to share the following with
everyone the day it came out. Economic resegregation is the name of the game.

George N. Schmidt
Editor, Substance
5132 W. Berteau
Chicago, IL 60641

Northside Prep aims to keep top students

By Michael Martinez

Tribune Education Writer

Amid a ragtag collection of Chicago public high schools featuring such
"architectural details" as inoperable windows and sagging ceilings, the
soon-to-open Northside College Prep High School has been designed so
painstakingly that some walls intersect at a precise 16 1/2 degrees.
Why 16 1/2?
It makes the glass-encased rooms on the back side of the school perfectly
parallel with the North Shore Channel about 300 feet away--giving students,
faculty and others visiting the "media center" (library) and "dining room"
(cafeteria) an unobstructed panorama: the forest-lined waterway, athletic
fields and, from the third floor, a view of the Sears Tower and John Hancock
buildings in the distance.
The incongruously lavish architecture at the $44.7 million school, 5501 N.
Kedzie Ave., is matched by an academic agenda designed to put Northside Prep
in the same league as the most elite private schools in the city and the best
public schools in the suburbs--or the nation, for that matter. It is expected
to surpass even Whitney Young High School, the city's best-known magnet high
school and one of Illinois' most prominent schools.
And therein lies the promise--and pressure--that Chicago public school
officials face as they prepare to open the first new high school built in the
city since the system's financial collapse in 1979.
Northside College Prep is Chicago's biggest and most elaborate test case yet
of whether Mayor Richard Daley's school board can retain middle-class
families who now pull their kids out of the system after 8th grade and enroll
them in private and parochial high schools or just move out of the city for
suburban schools.
Predictably, for such a large and expensive undertaking, it has attracted
scrutiny from the federal government for its desegregation policies, and a
few raised eyebrows over its lineup of politically connected boosters.
A selective magnet school that is also known as Region One Magnet High
School, Northside Prep will serve the Far North and Northwest Sides. It is
expected to open with the first day of school on Aug. 24; department heads
began moving in this week.
Its 517 freshmen, sophomores and juniors are ranked in the top quarter of
students nationwide, according to a nationally normed entrance exam. Its
faculty includes some of the best teachers recruited from Chicago, the
suburbs and such far-flung places as Maryland and North Carolina.
Northside's principal is James "Jay" Lalley, 57, former principal of St.
Ignatius College Prep High School and a former assistant headmaster at
another impressive Jesuit high school, Loyola Academy in Wilmette.
But the most revealing aspect of the new school's academic program may be
this: It will offer only honors and advanced placement classes--no regular
and certainly no remedial courses--the only public high school in Chicago
with such an exclusive offering, officials said.
"How much more of the talent must we see leave our system at the 8th grade?
You know it's not right. We have to service everybody," Gery Chico, school
board president, said. "If you can't provide these magnet options to our
parents throughout the city, they will leave. And you know what? The mayor
wants to keep all people in the Chicago public system--middle class, poor
people, upper class."

As to the 16 1/2-degree walls, Chico said: "To design a building in relation
to the natural resources around it, no, I don't think it's extravagant. In
fact, if you were working for me, I'd rap you if you didn't do it."
For all its allure, Northside still has had to go through three rounds of
acceptance letters to students because some initially chose Whitney Young,
Lane Technical High School or one of the city's private or Catholic schools.
The schooI couldn't muster enough applicants for a senior class, no doubt
because of graduation-class loyalties, officials said.
About 65 percent of upperclassmen are from private or parochial schools, as
are 25 percent of the 407 freshmen, assistant principal Alan Mather said. The
school will slowly grow to about 950 students, Lalley said.
"It's the new Chicago Public Schools," said Lalley, who is recovering from
recent quadruple bypass heart surgery; his wife, Margaret, is principal of
Dawes Elementary School. "The way we try to envision ourselves is as a very
high-powered academic school. I just don't anticipate that our students will
have difficulty performing well on tests."
Meanwhile, in advance of its opening, Northside Prep has become the most
publicized flagship in an ambitious program to establish a total of six
magnet high schools throughout the city.
It is also the system's most politicized startup.
A local desegregation-monitoring commission and the U.S. Justice Department
are examining whether Northside College Prep and the ongoing construction of
the Region Two Magnet High School at Oak and Wells Streets in the Gold Coast
will resurrect the old days of segregation, in which the best schools are
built in white neighborhoods to serve white student bodies.
Northside College Prep is near the city's most affluent Northwest Side white
Northside's enrollment, however, stands at 55 percent minority and 45 percent
white-- compared with a federal desegregation guideline of 65 percent
minority and 35 percent white for magnet schools. Northside admission was
based on the highest test scores, with no preference to race.
It remains to be seen whether the system's other five magnet high
schools--all part of the effort to halt middle-class flight--will receive as
much financial and academic attention as Northside has, though board
officials say tens of millions of dollars will be spent on each of the other
Northside's attractive appointments and rapid construction are partly due to
political muscle. It has even been nicknamed "Chico High" because Chico lives
on the Northwest Side a few miles away. One of his daughters, a graduate of a
high-performing elementary school, will be among the freshmen class at
The school is also located in the ward of Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th),
chairman of the City Council's Education Committee and an ally of Daley. And
its general contractor is Walsh Construction, a politically connected firm
that was the lowest responsive bidder for the project, a board spokesman said.
Chico and O'Connor dismissed suggestions of undue political influence, saying
the idea for Northside originated in a failed attempt to start a charter high
school in a nearby area with a high elderly population.
The system later decided upon a magnet high school for the northernmost part
of the city and searched for a site in 20 wards.
Officials in most wards didn't respond, O'Connor said, because constituents
had little confidence in the troubled school system.
The targeted enrollment area of Northside College Prep is bounded by Belmont
Avenue, the lake, and the northern and western city limits; however,
enrollment is open to all students in the city. Only 10 percent of applicants
came from outside the region, however, partly because the school is remote
from the elevated train system, officials said.
"Just because you build something north of Belmont doesn't mean it's
political. That's 16 percent to 20 percent of the school population that
needs to have access to a school like this," Chico said.

The three-story glass front entrance features a cantilevered roof and
limestone-clad columns. Most of the 31 classrooms will have fiber optic and
cable connections, and each will have up to five computers for student use.
Each of two computer labs will have 35 computers.
Parent Nancy Wicklund has pulled her daughter, a freshman, and son, a junior,
out of parochial schools to attend Northside Prep, their first public school.
"I kept feeling we needed a school on the North Side that had the same
academic level and the technology that Whitney Young would have and I kept
thinking that it's just not fair. Why don't we have something up here?"
Wicklund said.
"I'm just overwhelmed with the facility and the administration of the school.
It was mindboggling. That first (parents) meeting really sold me. Everyone
was just speechless because you saw the teachers who were brought together.
You know the school is going to succeed," she said.

Copyright Chicago Tribune (c) 1999

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