A Chicago school with a history that includes being part of a music video and winning city debate titles and even a state championship is destined to become a piece of history itself.
Hope College Prep in the city’s Englewood neighborhood is slated to close this summer. The school has no students in it this school year. The last 20 students went to other schools after the 2018-19 school year.
The lack of students in the building does not make phasing out the once-thriving school any easier, according to a former Hope teacher.
“History matters. People remember going to the homecoming dance, the school play they were in, that they were on the debate team,” said Kurt Hilgendorf, a former social studies teacher at Hope. “It’s memories that matter. It still really bothers me that (Chicago Public Schools) is closing the school. It had a dedicated staff. Two-thirds of the staff team was black at a school that was 99 percent black.
“It was a school that had a full range of programs. It had very successful sports teams and great extracurricular activities. Then it was dismantled by the (CPS) Central Office, the architects of the charter school program.”
He said no one at Hope had any say in the decisions that came down from the Central Office.
Hilgendorf said when he started at the Englewood school in 2006, Hope had 1,100 students and two start times. After the 2010-11 school year, Hope was down to 650 students, he noted. By 2018, the school was down to just 100 students, Hilgendorf said.
“Hope went from having a great reputation to a sour one really quickly,” he noted.
The former Hope teacher said the school was another casualty of CPS’ push for more charter schools.
Creating the new Englewood STEM High School (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math), CPS officials began the phase-out of other neighborhood high schools — Harper, TEAM Englewood, Robeson and Hope.
CPS officials said the STEM campus was created in the hopes of convincing local students — 90 percent of whom go to high school outside the neighborhood — to stay in the Englewood community.
Chicago Public Schools officials said there are no plans to close or raze the Hope building, located at 5515 S. Lowe Ave., as a charter middle school is now using the facility.
The Chicago Public Schools Board of Education is expected to approve the closing of the school as of July 1. Without board action, the school would close at the end of the 2020-21 school year due to two full years of inactivity.
A Jan. 14 community meeting at Kershaw Elementary was the first official step to closing the school.
Hilgendorf, who is now legislative and policy director for the Chicago Teachers Union, said that Hope students protested in the early and mid 2000s over issues with school facilities. The students complained of problems with the building’s roof and its gym, pool and other facilities.
“The school district put a significant capital investment into the building, knowing how important Hope was to the area,” Hilgendorf said. “Then they built another high school that kids from the neighborhood can’t attend. Kids in the neighborhood did not benefit from the improvements.”
The school’s history includes being part of a video by rapper and Chicago native Common. He had an in at the school as his mother, Mahalia Hines, is a former principal of the school. Hope’s history also includes capturing numerous city debate titles and the Class A girls basketball state championship for the 2002-03 season.
Hilgendorf admitted that he has not been to the Englewood STEM High School yet, but said he has heard discussions on the challenges to get the school open, bringing students together from four different attendance areas.
“There are ways to do mergers effectively,” Hilgendorf said. “When Jenner (Academy for the Arts) and Ogden (International School on the Gold Coast) made the effort to merge, parents were heavily involved. An effort was made to get everyone to meet to make it happen. It was a model on how to do it.”
In the Southwest Side’s West Lawn neighborhood, a similar successful merger took place when Peck and Pasteur elementary schools were overcrowded, Hilgendorf said. Richardson Middle School was created to take middle-schoolers out of each elementary building.
“The alderman got involved. Staff was met with. When the decision was made to lay off 10 teachers, they all got involved and overruled that intention,” Hilgendorf said. “That is not what happened in 2013 under the most massive closure in U.S. history.”
Former Hope student Chiquita Thomas said that the school was a symbol of hope for the Englewood community.
“At the end of the day, there is hope still in the community and I would say that that is something we want to take into consideration as we move forward in taking steps to toward closing (Hope.),” Thomas said.