Jones College Prep set to add selective seats

January 22, 2013

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday that the old Jones College Prep building, standing in the shadow of a gleaming new school, won’t be demolished, but that it also won’t be the neighborhood school some nearby residents want.

Instead, the new building will incorporate the old and become one school, with about double the number of selective enrollment seats. Jones currently has about 880 students. With an additional 250 selective enrollment seats each grade, it will eventually be about 1,700 students.

Emanuel said he made the decision after realizing that many students wanted to go to Jones, but couldn’t get in. Of the 18,000 who applied for selective high schools last year, 9,000 listed Jones as one of their choices, he said.

“We all know that when the [selective enrollment rejection] letters arrive, the next day, there are some `For Sale’ signs in the windows,” he said, referring to parents who move from the city if they can't get their children in top schools.

Emanuel said parents should have more choices to send their children to a selective enrollment high school, charter high school or neighborhood high school. And he lauded the fact that Jones serves a diverse student body.

Emanuel did not take questions at the press conference.

But Ald. Bob Fioretti, who has led the push to turn the old Jones into a neighborhood school, said residents who don’t feel like their neighborhood school is a safe, quality option will also leave the city.

“The last 15 years has seen the central loop grow exponentially,” he said. “When it comes to high school, 40 percent move out of the city. It is an incredible economic loss to the city and this is a way to stem the loss.”

Fioretti says community groups from the South Loop, the West Loop, Chinatown and Bronzeville all support the idea of creating a new neighborhood high school.

The existing high schools where students from these communities would be assigned are Phillips, Wells or Dunbar. Dunbar and Phillips are Level 3 schools, the worst CPS rating. This year, Wells moved to a Level 2 school, the mid-rating. All three are underutilized.

Though Fioretti says it is not enough, the new Jones will have some concessions for neighborhood students. They will be given preference for 75 seats set aside for a new pre-law and pre-engineering program. Katie Ellis, executive director of access and enrollment for CPS, says the seats for the new programs will be awarded to the top 75 students who apply from the neighborhood, based on test scores and grades. At least 800 students applied this year.

For current parents of students at Jones, the expansion brings some mixed feelings. Yvonne LaGrone, who has a freshman and a senior at the school, says the transition from a small school to a relatively big one will be hard for students. LaGrone sent her children to small private elementary schools and says they have been somewhat sheltered.  

But she says more students need the opportunity to go to a selective enrollment school. Like many, she says her neighborhood school is not an option.

At the same time, her brother, who has a daughter in 8th grade and lives two blocks away from Jones, should have the option of going to Jones for high school, she says. She thinks the seats set aside for neighborhood students are enough.

LaGrone says that Jones offers all honors and Advanced Placement classes and, therefore, students need to be functioning at a certain level to be competitive.

“We have a reputation and we want to maintain that reputation even as we expand,” she said.