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Proposed West Side tech academy would be built on school campus slated to close

People hold up signs saying “Class of 90,” “Class of 91” and “Class at 92” at rally
Parents, teachers, students and alums rally at Lawndale Community Academy against the STEAM school.
Pascal Sabino / Block Club Chicago

A location has been recommended for a science and tech school planned for the West Side neighborhood of North Lawndale — just as some parents vow to fight the plan that would see three neighborhood schools closed.

The North Lawndale STEAM Partnership Academy would be built on part of the current Lawndale Community Academy campus at Douglas Boulevard and St. Louis Avenue, according to a proposal submitted to Chicago Public Schools on Nov. 2.

Under the plans, Lawndale Community Academy’s lesser-used east building would be torn down and the school would be built at the site. It’s unknown how Lawndale Community Academy’s current campus would be used.

Lawndale Community Academy is one of the three neighborhood schools that would be closed to form the high-tech STEAM school.

Neighborhood leaders who want to bring high-quality educational programs to North Lawndale have spent years developing the school, which would specialize in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Sumner Elementary School, Lawndale Community Academy and Crown Academy all would close, and their pre-K to eighth-grade students would be moved to the new school.

But some parents say the proposal doesn’t address the real reason students are leaving Lawndale: existing neighborhood schools are underfunded.

“We have schools that are already open, and we are underfunded,” said Shavon Coleman, a parent of two Chicago Public Schools students and a teaching assistant at Lawndale Community Academy. “Take the money that you were going to invest in the new STEAM school and invest that into our existing schools.”

Opponents of the plan interpreted the selection of the Lawndale Community Academy site as a win after rallying against the proposal to develop the public STEAM school at the cost of shuttering three existing schools.

“Because of actions like this … the proposal has changed,” said Shavon Coleman, a parent who also works at Lawndale Community Academy. “Stay tuned because their proposal will be changing again. Stay tuned because we will not have another school closing.”

Enrollment at Crown and Lawndale has dropped by more than half since 2010, CPS data shows. Enrollment at Sumner has decreased by about half in the same time period.

Sumner’s administration will transition into the STEAM Academy since it is the highest-performing school of the three, according to CPS quality ratings.

Leaders with the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, the group that is developing the STEAM school, said the plan hasn’t changed in response to parent demands to drop the proposal. Rather, the group has selected a central location for the new school, as originally intended.

But the group is still hoping to partner with parents who are skeptical about the proposal so they can be involved in the development of the school.

“We’ve been listening,” said Dr. Leonard Moore, co-chair of the education committee of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council. “We want them to get involved. … What we want to do is be very transparent. We want to make sure we answer all the concerns parents have.”

The plan was always to retain the school administrators as well as teachers and staff members from the three schools that would be consolidated into the STEAM Academy, said Betty Allen Green, co-chair of the neighborhood’s education committee.

“We don’t want the students entering the school feeling isolated. We want them to feel supported by familiar faces,” Green said. “… For those teachers that are interested in teaching at the STEAM academy, we would like for them to have first choice.”

Related: A New High-Tech School Could Be Coming To The West Side — But 3 Nearby Schools Would Have To Close First

Parents, teachers and organizers with the Chicago Teachers Union rallied at Lawndale Community Academy, where the school would be developed, to push back against the plan to close the schools.

Some parents said they felt left out of the development of the proposal and think the STEAM school wouldn’t address the disinvestment, lack of affordable housing and poor public safety in the area that is the real reason schools are underutilized.

“Just because they want to build a new building, don’t buy it. Tell them to split that money between those three schools,” said Christel Williams-Hayes, a resident and parent in North Lawndale.

The proposal specifies students at the three schools that would be consolidated would be guaranteed a seat at the STEAM academy. But amid the confusion and backlash over the proposal, many parents fear their kids won’t be able to attend the new school and will be forced to leave the community to access a quality education.

When former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration closed 50 schools, South and West side communities were promised better educational opportunities that never materialized, parents said at the rally.

Since 2018, the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council has held more than 50 public meetings about the STEAM school for teachers and families, including town halls and meetings for parents at the three schools that would be consolidated.

Three more meetings are planned to offer more clarity on the proposal and give parents a chance to offer feedback and express their concerns.

The meetings will be 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Families can register for the virtual meetings here.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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