In some cities, the high school you attend can determine a lot about your trajectory in life. This was definitely the case in my hometown of Chicago. On Thursday, I was one of the excited Chicagoans who received news that my hometown would be adding another highly ranked high school to its list of selective-enrollment schools. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said the name of this high school would be Barack Obama College Prep, named after our nation’s current president. Yet the announcement raises concern about how the opportunities for a quality education are distributed within the nation’s third largest public school system.
I am a product of the Chicago Public Schools selective-enrollment system, a network of schools in which students are required to test into and, once attending, primarily take honors and Advanced Placement classes. Like most of my classmates, my daily commute lasted more than 30 minutes and took me out of the neighborhood I lived in. In my case, I passed a couple of other selective-enrollment high schools on the way to mine. But for some students in the city, they must travel several miles out of their way to reach a top-tier high school.
Once it opens in the fall of 2017, Obama College Prep will be located near the former location of one of the largest housing complexes in the nation — and also about 10 blocks from my alma mater, Walter Payton College Prep. Meanwhile, the Southwest Side of the city will continue to lack a selective-enrollment high school. Currently, there are 10 selective-enrollment high schools in the city and, according to the Chicago Public School website, there are 112,029 students attending public high schools in the city. The city projects that eventually Obama College Prep will accept up to 1,200 students.
The potential location of the high school is problematic, and might contribute to the larger issue of access to quality school systems in Chicago’s urban center.
Chicago is not the first city to want to name a school after the current president. Here in Los Angeles, Barack Obama Global Preparation Academy opened its doors three years ago in South Los Angeles. Though it’s always risky to name a school after a living person, the bigger concern with the announcement is that Barack Obama College Prep’s location will not represent the work the president accomplished in the city. President Obama spent his adult years working as a public servant on the South Side of Chicago, where he eventually got married and began his family. For this reason, the school that will bear his name in the city where he first became known should be on the South Side.
Another reason to reconsider the placement of the new selective-enrollment high school is to ensure that the city’s students are rising to a new level of education. In the same week as his announcement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that Chicago Public high schools are on track to achieve a graduation rate of 82 percent. According to a study by the University of Chicago, the graduation rate has increased by 25 percent since 2007 and 9 percent since Emanuel took office in 2011. The current graduation rate in CPS, however, rests at 61.2 percent, according to a recent press release by CPS.
The issue of strategically locating high schools in areas of the city that could use a boost from a rigorous, resource-filled school is not one simply confined to Chicago. Schools that are usually referred to as “failing” schools are largely confined to communities and neighborhoods with low income and high unemployment rates. Furthermore, the city voted to close approximately 50 public schools last year, most of them located on the South Side of the city. This became the largest batch of school closings in any U.S. city, according to the Chicago Tribune. I think it’s about time to have a solid selective-enrollment school on the Southwest Side of the city.
Selective-enrollment schools are a necessary system to have in Chicago right now. But the selective-enrollment system should not be exclusive to only certain parts of the city. As the old adage goes, location is everything.
Every student should have the ability to attend a school on their side of town with ease and a little shorter commute than currently possible. This can be achieved if the city’s newest top-tier school would be built on a side of the city without one currently, instead of being concentrated in an area of a city that already has a top-rated school. This reconsideration would truly represent a city government that is focused on educating all of its students to the best of its abilities and creating citizens who can make salient contributions to the rest of the city, nation and world.
Jordyn Holman is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Making the Grade,” ran Wednesdays.