By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Ald. Will Burns (4th) held a town hall meeting at Kenwood Academy High School June 16 to discuss moving its academic center into the now-vacant Canter Middle School building.
Canter Middle School, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., completed its one-year phase out and closed on June 30. City Council announced in March that aldermen in wards with closed schools would host town hall meetings to get community input on how Chicago Public Schools (CPS) should repurpose school buildings. Burns said after speaking to a number of community stakeholders he assessed that moving Kenwood’s Academic Center, which currently shares a building with the high school at 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., would be the best option.
“I was not interested in a charter school,” Burns said. “What I heard the community saying was make it a middle school.”
Burns said the move would relieve the overcrowding at Kenwood, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., and provide more open seats at the academic center, which is a selective enrollment 7th and 8th grade program.
Kenwood Principal Gregory Jones said the expansion is a great opportunity for the school, which currently has about 1,800 students in 7th through 12th grade. The building’s capacity number is 1,646.
“The high enrollment numbers are a good thing. Most public high schools are losing their population — Kenwood is gaining,” Jones said. “This would give [Kenwood] the opportunity to serve more students well.”
Most community members said they weren’t against Burns’ idea but were leery of the process because the plan for Canter’s building was made without community discussion.
“We expected to be presented with different options and to be heard,” Vicki Long said. “We feel like there are only certain people [Burns] spoke to before making a decision.”
Deb Haas said, “We want a middle school for everyone, the academic center is selective enrollment.”
Burns said CPS has not made a final decision on how the Canter building will be used and the community could decide to develop a request for proposals to use the building for a different purpose.
He said the academic center would be the best choice for the space because it will be sustainable over time.
“Canter was not being used by the Hyde Park-Kenwood community,” Burns said. “I want to integrate what people are using to bring vitalization to the Canter building.”
Burns and CPS Area 9 Chief of Schools Harrison Peters said every school year they receive multiple calls from disappointed parents whose children didn’t get into the academic center.
Parents persisted that at least a small number of open enrollment spaces should be available should the academic center take over the Canter building.
“Is it possible to have duel enrollment of kids who test in and open enrollment slots for students from feeder schools?” asked Denise Hill.
Peters said with the increased number of K-8 schools in the neighborhood there would be more open enrollment middle school options.
“Kenwood created a healthy competition in the neighborhood,” Peters said. “K-8s are trying to think of ways to keep their students at their schools.”
Parents whose children have already been accepted to the academic center also voiced concerns.
“We were given a tour of [Kewood’s] building not [Canter’s],” said Sherolyn Shaw, who had concerns about the condition of the Canter building. “And how will the school handle tardy and safety issues of students traveling between the two buildings?”
Tom Tyrrell, chief operations officer at CPS, said if the community decides it wants the academic center moved to the Canter building “we will have to find the money for upgrades.”
If there are no obstructions to Burns’s plan to move the academic center over to the Canter building, it would take a year for CPS and Kenwood to prepare for the transition. During that time a series of open meetings are expected to take place to seek community input on what upgrades should be made to the building.