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CPS seeks to add a dozen charter schools

Updated: January 14, 2012 8:20AM

Chicago Public School officials Wednesday will seek to add 12 charter campuses to their portfolio — including allowing one charter chain that currently oversees a low-performing CPS school to open yet another CPS charter campus in the current Maria High School building.

Catalyst-Maria Charter School would open in the fall 2012 with kindergarteners through fifth graders as well as with ninth graders and share the all-girls Catholic Maria High building at 6727 S. California for one year.

By June 2013, Maria High School would close and Catalyst-Maria would occupy the entire building, according to a proposal released Monday and up for a Chicago School Board vote Wednesday.

Catalyst currently operates Chicago’s Catalyst-Howland Charter School, where only 57 percent of students passed their Illinois Standards Achievement Tests this year, and Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School, where 71 percent passed, CPS records indicate.

Both passing rates are below the CPS average of 75.6 percent, but Catalyst-Howland’s test scores are so much lower that it is considered a bottom-rung, “level 3” CPS school that would normally be on academic probation but for its charter status. Its passing rate put it among the bottom quarter of all public schools taking ISAT tests this year.

Catalyst-Howland underperformed CPS averages on every test-based indicator used in CPS online “scorecards,’’ although it holds about the same percentage of low-income kids.

The head of the Sisters of Saint Casimir who currently operate Maria High School told the Chicago Sun-Times last month that the “economics’’ of running a single-gender private school in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood had become “prohibitive.’’

The group was attracted to renting its school building to the Catalyst Charter chain because it believes Catalyst shares the same commitment to a college-prep curriculum, to strong character values, and to producing “people of service” that has characterized Maria High School, said the sisters’ general superior, Sister M. Immacula Wendt.

The sisters also hope to eventually provide optional Catholic education classes in an adjacent building — either before school, after school or on Saturdays — that would allow male and female Catholic students and others to continue their Catholic education, Wendt said last month.

Other charter chains up for additional campuses Wednesday are Noble Charter, which would add two high school campuses in 2012 and two others in 2013; UNO Charter School Network, which would open three new elementary campuses in 2013; and LEARN Charter Network, which would open one new elementary campus in 2012 and two in 2013. In addition, Christopher House is seeking approval to open an elementary charter campus at 2250 N. Latrobe.

The 12 new campuses, CPS officials said in a news release, are “part of the district’s overarching strategy to provide high quality educational options for every child, in every community, to further the district’s mission of graduating all students ready for college and career.’’

The latest charter expansions follow new data released for the first time in more than a decade showing the 2011 state tests passing rates of Chicago’s charter chain operators were wildly uneven, even among campuses overseen by the same operator. Only Noble Street managed to out-perform the average CPS state test passing rate at every CPS campus it operates.

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