Social Justice school on Board of Ed agenda

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • November 18, 2008 @ 3:00 PM

The proposed Social Justice Solidarity High School, which would be designed to provide a gay friendly supportive environment for city students, will be among five new schools considered for approval tomorrow by the Chicago Board of Education.

The board’s vote would be the final step in an approval process that has included two public hearings, meetings with Chicago Public Schools officials and many development meetings held by the new school’s design team.

“We’re very excited,“ says Chad Weiden, assistant principal at Greater Lawndale Little Village School for Social Justice and a member of the five-person design team.

The school was first proposed as Social Justice High School, Pride Campus, but in the last month the name was changed to Social Justice Solidarity High School to reflect the fact all students would be welcome to apply through a citywide lottery, regardless of race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion or disability.

“It‘s never been a gay high school,” Weiden says. “It‘s always been a school that‘s all inclusive. We like the name, solidarity.”

If approved, the school would open in 2010 as a Renaissance 2010 school. In the first year, 150 students would be admitted in Grade 9. In subsequent years, 10th, 11th and 12th grade would be added with a full enrollment of 600.

A location has not yet been determined. Bill Greaves, director and community liaison of the city‘s Commission on Human Relations‘ Advisory Council on Lesbian, Gay and Transgender issues prefers a site that is centrally accessible to all.

The school‘s proposal did draw negative comments from two people at last month‘s board meeting.

“I’m just so sick to death of this stuff,“ says Kathy Reese, a city resident. “They should not be treated differently than anyone else. All I’m saying, this should not be pushed at the children. Homosexuals can’t have children, so they have to recruit.“

In addition to Social Justice Solidarity, the other four new school proposals in front of the board are: Transportation Academy of Chicago, a high school that would partner with Chicago Transportation Authority; Chicago Hope Academy, a proposed contract school to be located on the West Side; Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, a contract school that would focus on careers in health sciences, and the Urban Prep Academy for Young Men, South Shore, modeled after the all-boys Urban Prep Charter Academy.

The board has already approved 15 other new schools that will open in 2009 and 2010.

Also in front of the board will be a proposal to approve the relocation of Skinner Elementary Classical School from its temporary location at 1443 N. Ogden Ave., to a new building at 1260 W. Adams St., and add in a neighborhood magnet cluster school at the same time.

Before the Skinner proposal even was on the board‘s agenda, the issue drew ire from a group of Skinner parents who appeared at the September board meeting. Skinner Classical students must test into the program for admittance, and the parents did not want a neighborhood school added in at the new building, citing a big difference in the curriculums‘ differences and that there is not enough room in the new building for two separate schools.

“We don’t want a neighborhood component. Period,” Kathryn Wordlaw-Bailey, a parent, told the board.

Since then, representatives of the parent group had been meeting with CPS in hopes of a different solution.

Tomorrow’s board meeting is open to the public, and public comment is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. (sign-ups are from 8 to 9 a.m.). The regular meeting will commence at about 12:30 p.m., followed by an executive session closed to the public. Board of Education meetings are held at the CPS Central Office downtown, 125 S. Clark.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.