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Jones College Prep to double number of students

Chicago Public Schools CEO BarbarByrd-Bennett Mayor Rahm Emanuel announce expansiplans for Jones College Prep Tuesday January 22 2013. At right

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announce expansion plans for Jones College Prep on Tuesday, January 22, 2013. At right is Silas Woods, III, a senior and student council vice-president at Jones. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 24, 2013 6:25AM

Ignoring the wishes of many South Loop parents and their alderman, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday that the old Jones College Prep High School building will not be converted to a neighborhood school but instead will double the number of students allowed to test in.

Jones College Prep students are scheduled to move a block south in the fall into a new, $115 million building, according to Chicago Public Schools. Parents in the footprint of the selective enrollment school, 606 S. State, have asked that the existing building be renovated into a school open to any child living in the neighborhood, regardless of academic prowess.

Instead, Emanuel and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett opted to double the capacity of Jones, they said at the school Tuesday. By 2016, Jones will hold 1,700 high school students from across the city who make the academically competitive cut, with students housed in the current building and the new one. Jones has about 900 students enrolled now.

Neither the mayor nor the schools chief would answer any questions, including why they chose to ignore the community’s desires for an open-enrollment, neighborhood school.

The mayor would only say that the decision to expand Jones dovetails with his efforts to provide parents who might otherwise consider moving to the suburbs when their kids reach high school an array of high-quality education choices so they can stay in the city.

“We all know when those letters arrive, sometimes there’s a ‘For Sale’ sign. And that’s not good for the city’s future. That’s wrong,” the mayor said.

“In tough budgets, we’re gonna continue to give parents and their children high-quality educational choice. And expanding Jones and the selective enrollment family [makes] more seats available for those kids. So, rather than getting a rejection letter, they get an acceptance letter.”

CPS had discussed demolishing the old building, to the tune of $10 million, once the new one was completed.

Emanuel said Tuesday he shot that down after visiting Jones on the day after the November election to congratulate the boys’ cross-country team for capturing the state championship. He said he called Byrd-Bennett immediately:

“I said, ‘B, why are we tearing this building down?’ ... Parents want their kids to be in a great school that offers a phenomenal education. The notion that this is scheduled for the ball to come and rip it down makes no sense at all. We decided to not only keep it open, but to open it up and enlarge the freshman class coming in each year for the next four years.”

But many parents raising children in the fast-growing South and West Loop neighborhoods wanted a solid neighborhood school where, unlike selective enrollment schools, their children would be guaranteed a place and would be educated close to home. They complained that existing options at schools such as Crane High School, 2245 W. Jackson, were too far and unsuitable. Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) has championed the neighborhood option, citing the large population surge in the greater downtown area in the last 15 years or so. Fioretti plans to attend a CPS board meeting Wednesday to argue for the creation of a neighborhood high school, if not at Jones, then at a another location. He also intends to meet with Byrd-Bennett.

“If you don’t keep this building open, if you dont’ establish a neighborhood school, you are turning your back on the middle class of this city, they have nowhere to go but to leave,” said Fioretti at a news conference Monday evening, flanked by parents and community leaders. Census data showed more than 40 percent of families with children in the area leave when their kids hit school age, he said.

John Jacoby, who has two daughters, said he’s seen many friends flee to better suburban school districts and is concerned he might be next.

“I have a sixth-grader who doesn’t particularly test well, and she’s not likely to meet the stringent selective school guidelines, and so I’ll be forced in two years to probably move to the suburbs,” said Jacoby, an attorney. “We’ve lived in the city since 1993, and we want to continue living here, but if we don’t have a quality neighborhood high school to send our daughter to, this city leaves us with no choice.”

Part of Jones’ answer to neighborhood children is to offer two new programs that would give preferential enrollment to about 300 students who live within the school’s boundaries.

Applications for those programs were due on Jan. 15, according to the Jones school website.

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