Parents, community groups want answers about new South Shore High School

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The new South Shore High School is taking shape at the corner of east 75th Street and south Jeffery Boulevard, but CPS officials still haven’t made clear who will attend the new school—the subject of a fierce community debate. The new South Shore High School is taking shape at the corner of east 75th Street and south Jeffery Boulevard, but CPS officials still haven’t made clear who will attend the new school—the subject of a fierce community debate.

At issue is whether the students at the four existing small schools inside South Shore High will get a chance to go to the modern steel-frame building, as some parents want. Or whether the new school will be just that, a new school reserved for a fresh mix of students.

On Monday night, current South Shore High School LSC members called an emergency meeting for parents after learning from their alderman of tentative CPS plans for the new building to start with freshmen only and house specialty and general education programs.

April Whitaker, whose children attend the South Shore School of the Arts, says that until that meeting, she believed the new building was a replacement and that all current South Shore students would transfer there next September.

“They can’t just change this on us,” she says. “We have been very dedicated and, to just find this out now, is wrong.”

Community members who are pushing for a new school with a new culture are frustrated, too. They expected School Board action this month to approve a plan that would reserve 40 percent of the seats for an International Baccalaureate Program, 40 percent  for a career program and 20 percent for general education. Students at the current South Shore High Schools would continue in their current schools, which focus on arts, leadership, technology and entrepreneurship.

That group, which includes, among others, the South Shore Alumni Association and the Black United Fund, has been working with CPS officials for more than a year to come up with a plan for the new South Shore High School, says Henry English, executive director of the Black United Fund, a social service organization.

“We cannot have another general high school in South Shore,” he says. “We are trying to create a new culture.”

English notes that many of the middle-class families in South Shore don’t send their children to the current South Shore high schools because they perform so poorly. To attract a mixed-income population, which is key to a good school, the new school will need some selectivity, he says.

Freshmen are in the process of applying for high schools, and the deadline for selective enrollment schools is December 17.

CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond says that nothing has been decided about South Shore High School, “Nothing other than a new building … replacement building.”

However, an ad in the classified section of Education Week that seeks a principal for the new school says it will have “an International Baccalaureate Program, vocational programs in CTE Health and Cisco Networking Systems, as well as programs for College Bridge and Special Needs.”  The stated application deadline is Nov. 19.

Whitaker says she is upset and worried. She says it is unfair that the current students have had to attend shabby old buildings and watch the new one rise up, only to be told they can’t attend. This, she fears, will create animosity.

“One school will be better equipped than the other,” she says. “I am worried about the new 8th-graders. They don’t know they are coming into Afghanistan.”