Even as CPS announced last week that it was phasing out ASPIRA’s Mirta Ramirez Computer Science High School campus for poor performance, plans were under way to approve a new campus for the charter operator.
The campus had not been previously approved by the district; spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus says it was discussed at the Feb. 21 charter school renewal hearing. However, the school’s construction has been in the works for years and was approved by a city zoning board in March 2012.
Sainvilus wrote in an email that “In the last year, ASPIRA has taken important steps to improve overall performance. They chose to change leadership both in reconstituting their board and in replacing school leaders. “
“The decision to recommend ASPIRA’s expansion by opening a new campus was made based on these recent changes, ASPIRA’s expressed desire to operate in a neighborhood that is experiencing overcrowding, and the additional steps that will be taken to add annual academic benchmarks to their accountability framework,” Sainvilus wrote. “These benchmarks will allow CPS to take more immediate action should the schools not meet expectations.”
Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said he also did not see a contradiction between ASPIRA’s expansion and the closure of one campus. “Some of their schools have relatively strong performance (and certainly better than Mirta Ramirez),” he wrote in an email.
He added: “We are pleased to see Chicago take charter accountability seriously. The charter movement is about better outcomes for students, not merely about expansion for expansion's sake… We have very few high-quality schools of any type in Chicago and our focus is on changing that through high-quality charter expansion.”
ASPIRA’s school for dropouts, Antonia Pantoja, is not part of its charter. The organization's other two campuses are Haugan Campus, a middle school which has a Level 3 rating – the lowest rating the district gives schools—and Early College High School, which has not been around long enough to have a performance rating.
Early College does have some promising initial statistics: a 94 percent attendance rate, which is markedly above the 86 percent CPS average and a freshman on-track rate of 80 percent in 2011, which is somewhat higher than average.
However, in 2012, just 21 percent of students met state standards on the Prairie State exam, compared to the CPS average of 32 percent; and just 15 percent of students earned scores of 20 or higher on the ACT college admissions test, compared to the district average of 29 percent.