Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) says she will work with community stakeholders and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to bring a new alternative high school to the South Shore neighborhood now that plans have fizzled for the building of a Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy campus in her ward, which she opposed.
On Friday, a representative from Bridgescape, a national alternative high school operator, said it would open its second Chicago campus next month in Roseland, instead of the previously proposed South Shore site at 7037 S. Stony Island Ave.
Hairston strongly opposed the planned Bridgescape site in her community, saying South Shore residents wanted to see more businesses come to Stony Island Avenue, not a school. The proposed site was also across the street from the Children's Developmental Institute. An alternative high school, with students who may be "experiencing some difficulties", wouldn't be a "good fit" near a day care, the alderman told DNAinfo Chicago earlier this week.
"CPS is the one that made the determination that South Shore needs an alternative school, and I agree with that. That has never been the issue," Hairston told Progress Illinois Friday. "If the need is there, the need continues to be there."
Though the alderman was OK with the education center opening somewhere else in her ward, Bridgescape decided to move because it reportedly couldn't find a South Shore location that could be ready by its mid-October opening date, according to CPS.
Hairston stressed that Bridgescape is "not the only game in town" when it comes to alternative school options.
"I am going to continue to work with my community and CPS to try to bring about an alternative high school because that is what CPS says South Shore needs," the alderman said.
It is too early to say when or where a new alternative school would open in South Shore, Hairston said, but she added that she wants to move forward soon with meetings among CPS representatives and community residents to discuss an appropriate site and other details.
But a few already-enrolled Bridgescape students, who gathered outside the alderman's office Friday morning, said Hairston's pledge to help bring another alternative high school to the community is "too late."
"We should have been started, and more kids would have been off the streets, and (the alderman) wouldn’t have to worry about anything," said South Side freshman Mia Wilson, 16.
Back in January, the Chicago Board of Education gave the green light for Bridgescape to open two Chicago locations. According to its website, Bridgescape has 17 academies in six states with a total enrollment of 1,675 students. Bridgescape schools work to help academically struggling teens, ages 13 to 20, earn a diploma. There's no cost for students to attend the schools.
In July, school officials announced that Bridgescape would open its two Chicago academies, which would serve 150 students each, in the South Shore and North Lawndale neighborhoods this fall. The CPS-funded academies do not have to hire union-certified teachers.
Hairston's spokeswoman Delmarie Cobb said July was actually the first time the alderman had heard about such plans for the CPS-funded, for-profit school in her ward. The alderman said she was kept out of the loop on purpose as part of an effort by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to try to "circumvent sitting aldermen by pushing the administration’s agenda."
“I realize the mayor wants to cut the city council in half, to those he can count on to vote with him 100 percent, but as long as I am elected by 5th Ward residents to represent them, I will not be ignored, silenced or intimidated,” Hairston said in a statement issued Thursday.
Overall, CPS says there is an urgent need to provide more alternative or "options schools” in the city because nearly 60,000 Chicago students are not in school or on track to graduate from traditional high schools.
Wilson said she wants to attend an alternative school because she'll have more one-on-one instructional time with teachers. She can also graduate earlier and start working sooner.
"I want to have a future when I grow up," she said. "I want to make money, get my own house, [and] live good."