By Nathan Worcester
The Illinois General Assembly earlier this year set aside $50 million in its capital budget to construct a new high school in the Near South area to service Chinatown, Bridgeport, and South Loop.
“I was really pleased that it did make it into our capital budget,” said Representative Theresa Mah (D-2nd), who proposed the appropriation. She noted Chicago Public Schools (CPS) administration “is on board, and we will be starting the process of planning for the high school with robust community engagement. The origin of this project comes from the desire from the community to have a high school.
“There are a number of leaders in the Chinatown community—leaders and organizations—that have been involved over the years,” Mah continued, citing David Wu, Pui Tak Center executive director, and the Coalition for a Better Chinese-American Community (CBCAC) as local stakeholders who have helped realize the vision for a high school.
Mah stated she has not heard of any opposition to the high school from constituents or other stakeholders. “I would be surprised, just because there’s been years and years of activism around this,” she said, noting that, when CPS tried to convert the National Teachers Academy into a high school, “there was opposition to the conversion.” CPS abandoned the effort after a court injunction halted it.
“But I think that is a separate issue from the desire for a high school,” Mah said. “We don’t want this high school to be used as a reason to close any nearby high schools. We want to work with all the communities involved and make sure it’s a good outcome for everyone.”
“The Chinese high school is still very much a priority of CBCAC’s,” wrote Grace Chan McKibben, CBCAC executive director. “We will begin a series of conversations with parents and community members about what they would like to see in terms of academic program, co-curricular program, and student and family services soon. COVID considerations that make larger in-person meetings impossible has made community engagement challenging.”
Officials have not chosen the school’s location nor the area it will serve. “It has to be located somewhere in the vicinity of Chinatown, Bridgeport, and the South Loop in order to serve all three,” Mah explained.
“Several different ideas have been raised and we have forwarded these ideas with Alderman [Byron] Sigcho Lopez, Alderman [Patrick] Thompson, and CPS officials, and are awaiting formal feedback from CPS,” wrote Chan McKibben.
CPS did not provide information on the high school’s prospective timetable, location, or service area. In a statement, CPS said it “is committed to developing a new high school that meets the needs of the Near South community, and later this year, we will be launching a community engagement process to begin the process of considering key questions about the development of the school.”
“We know that the cost of a new high school will exceed $50 million, and we are evaluating options to ensure this project is able to move forward,” added Emily Bolton, CPS director of media communications and strategy, when asked whether CPS had committed any money in addition to the $50 million allocated by the Illinois State Legislature.
“My personal opinion is that it’s money well spent,” said James Wales, president of South Loop Neighbors, who emphasized his organization has not taken a formal position. “It would be a welcome relief for many of the parents living in the South Loop, Chinatown, and Bridgeport.
“I think it’s still relatively early,” added Wales. “I think people are waiting to see what happens here. I can’t imagine any opposition to it.”
“We have been advocating for a high school for many years,” wrote Bonnie Sanchez-Carlson, president and executive director of the Near South Planning Board. “So, we are in favor of a high school to serve our communities.
No plans to expand St. Therese
Susan Thomas, public relations and communications manager for the Archdiocese of Chicago, addressed rumors that St. Therese Chinese School intends to acquire Henry’s Sport and Marine at 3130 S. Canal St. to build a new school building.
“St. Therese Chinese Parish and St. Barbara Parish united to form St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish,” said Thomas. “Both churches remain open as active worship sites of the new parish. St. Therese Chinese School assumed responsibility for St. Barbara School, retaining campuses at both the existing St. Therese Chinese School building and the existing St. Barbara School building, under the St. Therese Chinese School leadership and name. There are no current plans to expand at either site. There is open capacity for students at the St. Barbara School campus. Parish leadership and the Archdiocese of Chicago are evaluating the best use of property on the two campuses.”
Contacted in October regarding the rumored expansion of the church and school, Thomas added, “There’s nothing definitive at this point.”
“I have not heard that St. Therese Church and School is expanding to that location,” wrote Chan McKibben. “St. Therese Chinese Catholic Church and School is a CBCAC coalition partner, and we have worked well with them on our initiatives such as Census 2020 outreach.”
For CBCAC, log on to cbcacchicago.org. For CPS, log on to www.cps.edu. For Mah’s office, call (872) 281-5775. For the Near South Planning Board, log onto thenspb.org. For South Loop Neighbors, log on to www.southloopneighbors.org.