DOLTON | The operators of several Chicago charter schools wanting to expand to the south suburbs said Monday they see themselves as being in cooperation — rather than competition — with existing public schools.
Urban Prep Academies operates campuses in the Englewood, Bronzeville and Near West Side neighborhoods in Chicago. During a presentation to the Thornton Township High School District 205 School Board, Urban Prep officials said they want to create a south suburban campus that could open in fall 2014.
Urban Prep likely would take students from District 205 and other south suburban high school districts, which would reduce already declining enrollment and further decrease the amount of general state aid the district would qualify for from the Illinois Board of Education.
But Urban Prep Chief Operating Officer* Evan Lewis said he doesn’t see anything adversarial in the relationship.
“Our vision is to create a school that would partner with the (school) district in many ways,” Lewis said. “It could result in improved access to education throughout the south suburbs.”
District 205 officials have estimated that a competing charter school could cost the district about $4 million per year in state aid. Lewis said an Urban Prep campus in the south suburbs likely would impact the district by about $1.9 million.
The Urban Prep south suburban campus, as currently envisioned, would open the 2014-15 school year with a freshman class, then would add a new class each year until — four years from now — there would be a total high school enrollment of 500 students. The school also would have 100 students in separate seventh- and eighth-grade classes.
Those students would be chosen at random by lottery, although Lewis said some preference would be given in future years to siblings of current students to keep families together.
Lewis said no attention would be paid to race when choosing students, although he conceded the existing Urban Prep campuses are almost entirely African-American and that a south suburban campus likely would have a similar characteristic.
The purpose of such a campus is to help students, many of whom are lagging behind academically, improve to a level where they can seriously consider acquiring a college education.
“As we see it, we haven’t done our job until our students ... graduate from a four-year college,” Lewis said.
At the existing Urban Prep campuses, 85 percent of incoming students read below grade level and 85 percent also qualify for free lunch programs. About 20 percent are special-needs students.
* Editor's note: This story has been corrected from an earlier version.
Lewis said 96 percent of Urban Prep graduates are able to enroll in a four-year college after graduating.
Lionel Allen, Urban Prep chief academic officer, said Urban Prep schools have a 2.5 percent expulsion rate but are trying to find alternate measures for dealing with problem students.
“We want to do away with expulsion," Allen said. "We don’t want to throw away our young men.”
Lewis said the Urban Prep south suburban campus would operate on an $8.8 million budget based on spending $13,588 per pupil. A facility has yet to be determined, but Lewis said the school is negotiating with the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese to see if now-defunct Catholic school buildings could be used.
Among facilities under consideration are former schools at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Calumet City, St. Mary Queen of Apostles in Riverdale, South Holland-based Holy Ghost School and St. Jude the Apostle Parish.