Austin High School on Chicago’s West Side is fighting to survive, writes Kate N. Grossman in The Atlantic. Like dozens of low-performing schools in low-income neighborhoods, Austin has lost students to charters, magnets — and district schools in safer neighborhoods. Loyalists want to turn Austin back into a neighborhood school. Can Austin High be saved? Should it be saved?
“With 391 students, including just 57 freshmen across three academies in a building meant for nearly 1,700, Austin is one of 35 Chicago public high schools that are well under half full,” Grossman writes. “Ten schools aren’t even a quarter full.” Most are in low-income black neighborhoods that are losing population.
Three-fourths of Chicago’s high schoolers chose not to attend their neighborhood school this year. That leaves the city’s “most challenging and low-achieving students” in half-empty schools. With funding tied to enrollment, there’s no money to maintain programs and staff.
Austin was closed in 2004 for “weak performance and chaos,” and reopened in 2006 as three small academies. Achievement remained low. Enrollment fell steeply. A recruitment drive has fizzled.
At Austin, only four families came to a well-planned open house in March, despite sending 430 invitations . . .
. . . just 8 percent of 712 eighth graders in Austin’s attendance boundary chose Austin in 2014.
Citywide, 31 percent of high school students who rejected their neighborhood school chose charters; the rest picked a district-run school.
Monique Johnson leaves home just after 6 a.m. with her son Shownn, 13, an eighth-grader. They “catch a ride to a bus stop eight blocks from their home, avoiding closer stops that are too dangerous. Their first bus comes at 6:20.
Shownn is exhausted at that hour and sometimes sleeps on his mother’s shoulder during the 25- to 40-minute ride along Schoolcraft Road toward Woodward Avenue. The bus drops the pair at the corner of Woodward and Manchester in Highland Park. Mother and son typically wait 20 minutes for their next bus, the No. 53, while peering warily through the dim light cast by the Walgreens across the street.
. . . Mother and son typically arrive at University Prep Science & Math Middle School, a well regarded charter school in the Michigan Science Center, around 7:30 a.m. and Johnson waits with her son until his classes begin at 7:50.
She gets at home about 9:30. “That’s about three and a half hours before she has to leave again on another four buses to return to Shownn’s school and bring him home.”
I guess she doesn’t think it’s safe for her 13-year-old son to make the journey by himself.