Charter school grabs site for renovation

Noble Network of Charter Schools plans to vacate a portion of a North-South public alley near West Grand Avenue for the continued construction of a new college prep high school, ITW David Speer Academy.

The new school is predicted to open in the fall of 2014 with a class of 300 freshmen entering their first year. The academy focuses on the fields of science, math, and engineering. Noble Network has 14 campuses that serve 9,000 Chicago public high school students.

According to their achievements and results, nine out of 10 of them ranked in the top 10 schools of Chicago based on high ACT performance. Noble classifies itself as a college prep network of schools.

Ninth ward Alderman Anthony Beale, also chairman of the Committee on Transportation and the Public Way, asked Noble Network’s chief operating officer, Mike Madden, what constitutes a high school to label it as “high performing” or a “prep school.”

“When we say ‘high performing,’ we’re talking about non-selective,” Madden said. “We’re simply going by test scores and comparing them to non-selective schools in the city.”

Beale said he objects to how the schools market themselves.

“When you hear the word ‘college prep,’ you think of selective enrollment.” Beale said. “So I think that it gives the wrong perception, and [Noble Network] is using that as a tool to draw kids in.”

Third ward Alderman, Pat Dowell, asked what the construction was for and how Noble intends to pay for the totality of the construction, specifically if the network would dip into Chicago public school funds.

Madden told the Committee that the proposed vacation is meant for a “connector for the east and west” sides of the campus on 53 to 57 W. Grand Avenue. He also said that the cost was donation based, privately funded for $21 million.

“If they’re not-for-profit, who’s monitoring their data,” Beale asked.

Beale said that schools like Butler College Prep and ITW David Speer Academy need some oversight, and he is unsure if there is any at this time. Since most of these schools are brand new, he said there needs to be someone around to make sure the schools are providing the quality education that they claim to provide and that they are not “fudging the numbers.”

The Committee approved of the ordinance for Noble Network to use the alley as a part of the new school but will only go through to the City Council meeting after Noble Network answers more of Beale’s questions.