On the eve of Wednesday's board vote on school closings and turnarounds, Chicago Public Schools has reached a deal with community leaders on the West Side to bring in a new neighborhood high school to replace Crane Tech, which is expected to begin a three-year phase-out next fall, the Tribune has learned.
Crane, a technical high school and athletics powerhouse on West Jackson Boulevard, was one of 17 struggling city schools the district had proposed closing or turning around last fall. It had been one of the locations where faith leaders with CPS contracts and ties to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had paid busloads of protesters to appear at hearings last month.
At a city council education committee meeting Tuesday morning, CPS' portfolio officer Oliver Sicat said "We still are moving forward on our recommendations for a phase-out at Crane and for Talent Development (Charter School) to come in. Those still exist and have not changed."
Sicat added that CPS is working with the community around Crane on an opportunity to create something "exciting in the building."
Those plans include a new high school with a health science-focused curriculum, perhaps in partnership with nearby Rush University Medical Center and Malcolm X College, the Tribune has learned. The current plans for Crane are to begin diverting its incoming freshmen next fall to Wells High School two miles north and to share the large school building with Talent Development Charter School. The yet-unnamed new high school is tentatively slated to begin in fall 2013.
Though supporters at most schools have voiced strong opposition to closing or turnaround plans, the response at Crane was noteworthy considering its deep ties with the city.
At least five future NBA players have suited up for Crane's storied boys' basketball program, which was a charter member of the Chicago Public League in 1913 and has won 11 league titles. Longtime Chicago Bears owner George Halas attended the school in the early part of the 20th century. After CPS announced plans to phase-out Crane beginning next school year, Halas' grandson, Bears co-owner Patrick McCaskey, reportedly wrote a letter of support for Crane to CPS leaders.
Crane's struggles inside the classroom the last decade put it on the district's watch list. The predominantly African-American school of about 700 students has been on academic probation for the last 10 years. Its school performance rating of 8.7 percent is among the worst for any high school in CPS. Just 57 percent of Crane’s incoming freshmen graduate within five years, according to CPS, and less than one-third of students meet or exceed standards on the Prairie State Achievement Examination.
Dozens of parents and community activists participated in a recent rally outside of Crane to protest its inclusion on the district’s closure list. A majority of Crane’s incoming freshmen next year would have been re-assigned to Wells High School two miles north.