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South Loop Residents Want Old Jones High School To Stay As Neighborhood School

CHICAGO (CBS) -- There's a brand new, elite public high school going up in the South Loop, but there's controversy, too. Not over the new building, but over what to do with the old one.

Local parents told CBS 2's Derrick Blakley the outcome could determine whether their families stay in the city or leave.

In the South Loop, construction was going full tilt on Thursday on the brand new William Jones College Preparatory High School.

Next fall, it's scheduled to replace the old building next door at 606 S. State St., and Chicago Public Schools officials want to tear the old building down.

Printers Row resident Enrique Perez said, "They want to demolish the building. They want to spend $10 million to do so, after they spent over $50 million 10 years ago to rehab it and renovate it. It just makes no sense, what they're doing, whatsoever."

Instead, community activists in the Printers Row and South Loop neighborhoods want the old Jones College Prep retained as a neighborhood high school.

John Jacoby, with the Prairie District Neighborhood Association, said, "We now have families that have a viable option when their child goes to kindergarten. We need a viable option now, in this neighborhood, when those children are going into the ninth grade."

Many of the families fighting to save old Jones College Prep sent their young children to South Loop Elementary School.

Decades ago, urban pioneers moved to the neighborhood, in the shadow of skyscrapers. The neighborhood grew, but their school options didn't.

Blagica Bottigliero has one child and another on the way.

If the old Jones College Prep building isn't retained as a neighborhood high school, she said, "We're considering moving out to the burbs in the next few years, because we have a 2 ½-year-old, we have one on the way, and school's very important to us."

The fierce competition to get into the new Jones College Prep will be citywide.

Local residents fear their kids will get squeezed out.

CPS said Wendell Phillips Academy High School, more than four miles south of Jones on Pershing Road, already serves as the South Loop neighborhood high school.

Its latest graduation rate was only 40 percent, and – for many parents in the South Loop – that's no option at all.

Jacoby said he wouldn't send his kids to Phillips, and while one daughter managed to get a perfect score on the entrance exam to get into Jones, he said his other daughter – who is now in the 6th grade – won't score that high, and likely can't qualify for a selective high school.

"We would be faced with a decision then," Jacoby said. "Do we go out and spend a lot of dollars on a private school education, or do we move to the suburbs?"

Perez said, "It just doesn't make sense for CPS to have policies that drive families out of the city."

CPS has set aside 25 percent of the seats in each class at the new Jones College Prep for neighborhood kids. That's 300 students in all.

But South Loop residents are concerned that, for kids who don't get one of those seats, and aren't extremely bright, the only other option is schools that are sub-standard, at best.

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