Uplift Community High School has been described by parents and alumni as the “pillar” of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Sophomore Shayne Donnelly says the school has opened doors for her through field trips, social justice organizations, and “experiences … that can impact your future.”

But the condition of the school is pathetic.

While Uplift was founded with the hope that its student body would come primarily from Uptown, it has not been designated a neighborhood school by Chicago Public Schools. Without a consistent stream of incoming students, or draws such as the International Baccalaureate or performing arts programs, it has enrollment at 107 students. Last year, the school used less than 10% of its space.

while one is school closure ban By 2025, local community members and advocates fear regeneration is poised to fail. gentrification in the neighborhood, Angela Clay, a member of Uplift’s inaugural graduating class in 2009, cited the example of nearby Stewart Elementary School, one of 50 schools that closed in 2013 due to a drop in enrollment. Now, the site features luxury apartments in Uptown.

“If you bleed the school of your kids who move to low-income and affordable housing in the neighborhood, you bleed the building,” Clay told a news conference last month ahead of a meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. ” “But it is a wonderful building and we will not let it touch the hands of the developers.”

Students leave at the end of the school day at Uplift Community High School in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood on October 28, 2022.

Now, advocates and representatives for the Uplift Local School Council are calling on CPS to set up a neighborhood high school by giving that building an attendance limit. This will establish an “organic flow” of Uptown students, said Mark Kaplan, a community representative for Uptown’s local school council.

A CPS spokesperson said that in the district’s choice-based high school system, “many CPS high schools do not have attendance limits.”

Currently, the majority of Uptown eats at Nicolas Sen High School in Edgewater, a neighborhood school located about two miles away that has more than 1,500 students.

Uplift is considered a citywide program, meaning any student in Chicago can apply, and no one is automatically admitted unless they apply. Uplift offers general education, special education and career and technical education. According to CPS statistics for the last school year, approximately 55% of students are black and 26% are Hispanic. More than 70% of the students are low-income.

Uplift offers preparatory college and STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics – programs and works to showcase these opportunities when recruiting students. But instead of recruiting a new class each year, advocates want the school to be filled with neighborhood students instead.

Kaplan said he participated in the construction of the school and that CPS “promised” that Uplift, the school’s founder, would do so.

Students leave Uplift Community High School in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood on October 28.

According to the school’s founding documents, it was owned by Mayor Richard M. Daly’s was established under the Renaissance 2010 plan, which aimed to close failing schools and reopen new ones. CPS closed Arai Middle School in 2005 and sought proposals for what to do with the area.

An important part of the Renaissance 2010 plan was increasing charter schools, which was one of the proposals considered for regeneration. But community members primarily advocated a proposal made by Arai teachers to establish what they envisioned as a neighborhood school, Kaplan said.

The initial founding document State Uplift was meant to serve 460 students in grades six to nine, with plans to add high school grade levels in the future. Kaplan said the plan later shifted to Uplift to become the high school.

According to the document, the vision for the school was to uplift, to foster relationships “in the Uptown community”.

“The majority of students are expected to come from the Uptown community, although students from outside Uptown will be able to participate when space becomes available,” the document said.

CPS also stated that it would work with the community to “develop an attendance plan for the school”, which opened in the fall of 2005.

Seventeen years later, families would choose to directly uplift, as did Shin’s mother, Robin Johnson. Johnson, a parent representative for the local school council, said Uplift’s dual enrollment offering, social justice initiatives and her ability to participate in curriculum development as a parent were the primary draws for her and her daughter.

Robin Johnson of Uplift Community High School Local School Council, in front of the school on October 28.  His daughter is a student at Uptown School.

The school offered Shayne the chance to see the play “1919”, which explores the resistance of Black Chicagoans. Johnson helped develop cross-disciplinary lesson plans focused on the Black Panther Party.

“I’ve never seen a school do this,” Johnson said.

At last month’s Board of Education meeting, Chicago Teachers Association vice president Jackson Potter called on the board to ensure that Uplift was not another “failed experiment,” citing the example of urban prep academies whose charters Board voted to repeal Later in the meeting.

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Across the district, CPS is experiencing drop in enrollmentLosing its status as the third largest school system in the country.

And CPS also has several other smaller high schools that are struggling to maintain a strong population: Hirsch Metropolitan High on the South Side is the same size as Uplift, with about 100 students, according to the CPS website. Austin College and Career Academy lists approximately 175 enrollments, while another West Side building, Manley Career Academy High, has only 70 students.

At the board meeting, CPS CEO Pedro Martínez attributed some of these declines between seventh and eighth grades to the current high school enrollment process. Martinez said he is already being asked about plans for his son, who is only in 6th grade.

“I can’t help but think about how complicated it is for our middle school students as they are thinking about high school options,” Martinez said.

part of CPS’s blueprint to address it, beyond its plans for 2022-23 “Recovery” yearThe presentation aims to “redesign our admissions and enrollment policies and procedures” and includes “reinventing and planning for the future of neighborhood schools”.

“We think we have a lot of room to really look at this policy and go back to our original goals – equity of access,” Martinez said.

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