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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chicago Tribune: Storied Chicago high school nears last dance

Austin High School is located on Chicago's west side. It's to be closed this year after years of low test scores. Seniors are the only ones who walk thru the hallways these days. In the place of Austin High School will be three smaller schools. From this Tribune article...
Yet Austin's future was anything but. The administration changed frequently in the late 1990s and early 2000s, primarily as a result of poor school performance.

By May of 2004, during Scott's first year as principal, the faculty was informed by Chicago Public Schools officials that the Austin High would be phased out.

"I was told that I would not be taking any freshmen," Scott said. "I thought I had an opportunity to change the school, but that changed. The community was in a short uproar."

Austin along with Calumet Career Prep Academy High School and Westinghouse Career Academy High School are being phased out this year. Austin is being transformed into smaller schools, including the Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy, which is already open, and Austin Polytechnical Academy, which will begin classes in the fall. The small schools concept, part of Mayor Richard M. Daley's Renaissance 2010 project to replace older schools with new innovative ones, promises to relieve overcrowding and provide different educational options for the district's children.

'Opportunity' on horizon

While the school's closing is a sad note for many, Diondai Brown, president of the Austin High School Alumni Association, sees it as the next step for the community's children.

"I think it's an opportunity," Brown said. "When one door closes, another one opens. We need to try to give support to the students who are there."

Scott partially blames the lack of stability the students had in school for the disappointing test scores. But the tough neighborhood surrounding the school didn't help, he added.

"They have a lot of competition from the streets," he said, referring to gang violence.

But neighborhood troubles will fade into the past as the seniors gather for the last prom on Friday. The prom committee selected as the theme "Make It Last Forever."

Although the seniors are excited about their last high-school rituals, they are saddened too. .

"This is it, the final chapter," senior Adriane Reed said glumly as a friend signed her shirt recently. "No more Austin."
There are a lot of material in this story. Even a great history lesson about the racial turnover at Austin High and the west side in general. Even Austin High's history as a suburban school before this neighborhood was annexed into Chicago.

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