West Side high school celebrates a milestone

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By Meribah Knight of the Chicago News Cooperative

Standing in the hallway of Austin Polytech, Stran’Ja Burge, 18, adjusted her burgundy graduation cap and shifted her weight restlessly from one foot to the other. Her 4-year-old high school was about to graduate its first senior class, but for Burge, the end of high school had still not registered.

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” she told the Chicago News Cooperative, carefully clasping her hands a few inches from her waist so as not to wrinkle her gown.

Austin Polytechnical Academy opened on the West Side of Chicago in 2007 as the city’s first and only career academy dedicated to occupations in high-skill manufacturing. On June 12, the school sent its first 92 graduates into that understaffed job market, many with industry-recognized credentials, internship experience and more than three years of engineering classes on their transcripts.

The school, developed as part of the Renaissance 2010 initiative by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, then chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, aims to prepare students to fill some of the nation’s estimated 3 million vacant positions in science, technology, engineering and math. The ambitious plan seeks to engage private-industry companies to help train the students, all of them from a community that has watched local industry flee, unemployment climb and foreclosure rates soar to the highest in the city.

Where graduates go from here — work force or college, inside or outside of the West Side — will be a test of achievement for Austin Polytech.

Since September, the Chicago News Cooperative has followed three students: Stran’Ja Burge and Marquiese Travae Booker, both seniors, and Deandre Joyce, a junior. In that time, the school has endured wrenching changes, many of them emblematic of a larger instability within CPS as leaders seek to reform one of the country’s largest and most troubled public school systems.

Two separate narratives about the school have emerged: one public and one private; one filled with success, the other fraught with troubles.

To read the rest of the story, click here.

This article is part 7 of 7 in the Chicago News Cooperative’s series Learning Tools: A Look Inside Austin Polytechnical Academy. Here are the earlier stories:

The Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky also recently reported on Austin Polytech, profiling one of the teachers who were fired from the school. To read her story, click here.



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