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Putting Children First

With only a couple of weeks away from graduation and securing 12 college acceptance letters, Deonte Howard was tragically shot and killed in the South Deering neighborhood on Chicago’s southside. His dream of attending Michigan State and playing basketball was taken away.

Howard was a student at Urban Prep Academy. The charter school network has three schools in Chicago and according to a report from the Chicago Tribune, “about 85% of Urban Prep’s 1,100 students qualify for free or reduced lunch.” Many of the students live in neighborhoods rife with gang conflict and violence and most also “start school reading at least two grade levels behind.”

Despite the odds stacked against students like Deonte Howard, Urban Prep Academy students have a 100% college acceptance rate. The charter schools are a part of the Chicago Public Schools system but are independently run and have been a beacon of hope for underprivileged African American kids in neighborhoods on the south and west sides. Founder and CEO, Tim King, attributes the success of the students to the high expectations and curriculum standards that are set, the culture of respect and responsibility, and caring for the students both socially and emotionally.

Yet, with all the success and adversity faced, CPS is revoking the Urban Prep West campus’ charter. The school will have to close its doors this year forcing students to go elsewhere. Some may have the opportunity to test into selective enrollment or magnet schools, while a lot will have to attend their neighborhood school.

The ISBE categorized Urban Prep West as “commendable” the second highest ranking for a school in the state. Unfortunately, it was not enough to meet the standards set for charter schools by CPS.

There is an overwhelming ideological opposition to charter schools and the expansion of choice in education in Chicago and state government. Recently, State Rep. and Co-Chair on Gov. Pritzker’s educational success committee, Emanuel Chris Welch (D-Hillside) introduced a bill to completely abolish the State Charter School Commission.

Chicago mayoral candidates, Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle, have also expressed their desire to put a halt on the expansion of charter schools in the city. Toni Preckwinkle even went as far to say she is willing to work with anyone who is in support of “ending school privatization and charter expansion.”

Gov. Pritzker, who sends his own children to private school, has repeatedly called to end the state’s opportunity scholarship program that allows low income families in underperforming school districts the opportunity to send their children to a private school that best fits their educational needs.

Families like Deonte Howard’s are looking for opportunities to better their children’s lives and send them to schools that will put them on a path to success and give them an escape from the negative influences in their neighborhood.

Urban Prep Academy has been successful in changing the narrative of what society thinks is possible for young African American boys in the Chicago’s south and west sides. It’s time for politicians to put their ideological biases aside and scale models of education that have proven successful.

For more information on Urban Prep West’s appeal process and what you can do to keep the school open, visit www.keepupwest.org.

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