By TONIA HILL
A class of 50 freshmen is expected to walk the halls of Hales Franciscan High School, 4930 S. Cottage Grove Ave., this fall. The school was closed last year due to low enrollment rates and financial struggles.
Hales will still stay true to its traditional Catholic education, but with a twist, a focus on science technology, engineering, and math (STEM) said Acting Hales President Anthony Daniels-Halisi.
Daniels-Halisi joined on as acting president at Hales last year. He previously ran a private school called New Concept School in Chicago. He is also one of four co-founders of Betty Shabazz International Charter Schools, 7822 S. Dobson Ave., where he served as CEO until 2012.
Daniels-Halisi said the desire is to not run into the same issues that caused the school to close last year.
He cited factors such as competition from selective enrollment and charter schools, migration out of the neighborhood and city, and Catholic school closings on the south and west sides that were feeders into Hales as some of the reasons for low enrollment in recent years.
In the 2015-2016 school year, the school only had 37 students, and 18 of those students graduated.
“The school wasn’t responding in an environment that was changing rapidly,” Daniels-Halisi said.
Funding has also been an issue for the school. In years past, Hales’ costs were covered by the Big Shoulders Fund and other benefactors such as Michael Jordan, whose foundation committed $5 million over a five year period.
Daniels-Halisi said when the funds they needed were in place that it allowed the school to have a solid foundation, but that it didn’t “allow us to become competitive in an environment that was becoming more competitive for fewer students,” Daniels-Halisi said. “We needed to pause to conserve limited resources but just as importantly redefine who we’re going to be.”
Daniels-Halisi has worked alongside Hales’ board over the last year to conserve monies and bring down the size of the student body.
He said the school would have no more than 200-250 students once all grade levels are filled in the future.
The group also looked to expand Hales’ traditional education curriculum.
“We have expanded Hales Franciscan’s model from a traditional Catholic school education to a traditional Catholic school education with an engineering entrepreneurship focus tied to community service learning,” Daniels-Halisi said.
Hales has forged partnerships with the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), the University of Chicago, the National Society of Black Engineers and the Illinois Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Students under programming provided by IIT will have the chance to apply what they learn in the classroom to address challenges in their communities through service learning opportunities.
Daniels-Halisi said when incoming freshmen become seniors they will have a well-rounded education that will help to benefit them as they apply for college.
Hales is one of only three U.S. Catholic high schools that serve African-American males. It opened in 1962. Some of the school’s notable alumni include JaVale McGee, National Basketball Association (NBA) center for the Golden State Warriors; Dr. Richard Gardner, physician; Rich Gardner, former National Football League (NFL) player and James Capers Jr., NBA referee.
The school went co-ed from 2014-2016 but will return to being all male this academic year.
Daniels-Halisi said the school wants to refocus on young men.
“It’s at a time when the city’s on fire,” Daniels-Halisi said. “Young African American males need Hales they need what it is that we do historically, they need the mentoring.”
Daniels-Halisi said he is aware that there will be a level of struggle in the first year. He believes as the people see how the school has rebranded itself then the school will grow and more students will be enrolled into the school.
The school also plans to advertise and fundraise to get the word out.
“What we’re doing at Hales is making sure that we put together a sustainable structure that ensures that the school is around for another 54 years,” Daniels-Halisi said.
Four $10,000 scholarships for incoming freshmen are available. To find out more information about the scholarships or Hales call 773-285-8400.
Hales’ opening date is Tuesday, Sept. 5.