Free school finds fall digs

By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Staff Writer

The founder of the Chicago Free School announced its new Hyde Park location Wednesday. The staff is also hosting a school-planning meeting in February.

“After touring many local churches, we have found exactly what we are looking for at Augustana Lutheran Church of Hyde Park, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave.,” Lauren Beitler, founder of the Chicago Free School, announced in a written statement. “We are excited to partner with the church community to create the school of our dreams in this space.”

For the past several months Beitler, who is a graduate of the University of Chicago Urban Education Initiative program, has hosted several inquiry sessions about the Free School. Free schools are private, have no principal and everything is decided by community consensus – including the students. In addition to seeking out interested families, Beitler was also searching for an ideal space.

According to Beitler, the Chicago Free School will occupy classrooms on the second floor of the church. The school will also make use of Augustana’s enclosed yard.

Beitler said the church’s Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and its close proximity to Nichols Park, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club and public transportation make it a great location for the school, which is expected to open in the fall.

Stephanie Jaeger, pastor of Augustana, said the church is very excited to partner with the Chicago Free School.

“The Chicago Free School aligns closely with our mission: strong commitment to education, the nurturing of children and a strong social justice orientation,” Jaeger said. “The Chicago Free School’s mission commitment to building relationships across economic and racial lines and earth-keeping or eco-justice are also a part of our vision.”

Jaeger said the school using the church building during the day also reduces the cost for the space and utilities for the church.

For the past five years, the space has been used by the Hyde Park Suzuki Institute, which will be moving out in August.

“We were able to lease the space to Suzuki to develop [it] into a strong program and we hope to do the same for the Chicago Free School,” said Jaeger, who said she did not know where the Suzuki Institute would be relocating.

Having just received notification last Wednesday that Suziki’s month-to-month lease would not be renewed after July, Lucinda Ali-Landing, founder and director of the Suzuki Institute, was unable to comment on her school’s future plans.

The school is hosting an “Envisioning the Chicago Free School” event for the community from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, at Augustana.

The event is for prospective teachers, parents, organizers, supporters and members of the community who are interested in helping develop the vision for the school.

At the event, community members will learn more about the school’s mission and philosophy, participate in brainstorming workshops, group discussions and watch a screening of the school’s fundraising campaign video.

E-mail chicagofreeschool@gmail.com or visit chicagofreeschool.org for more information.

d.philips@hpherald.com