Barack Obama College Prep serves (the whitest and wealthiest in) Chicago | Bleader

Barack Obama College Prep serves (the whitest and wealthiest in) Chicago

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A photo of 1230 N. Larabee Street taken in 2010, near the proposed site of Barack Obama College Prep
  • Scott Stewart/Sun-Times
  • A photo of 1230 N. Larabee Street taken in 2010, near the proposed site of Barack Obama College Prep

When the City Council gets around to holding hearings on the controversial topic of race and selective enrollment high schools, aldermen might want to hear from Rob Paral, aka Chicago Data Guy.

He's a demographer who recently put together a fascinating analysis of the communities surrounding the city's 11 selective enrollment high schools, including the proposed Barack Obama College Prep.

Obama high is, of course, the mayor's latest attempt to appease his north-side base by building another north-side selective enrollment high school.

He's already expanding Payton Prep, which is a few blocks east of the proposed Obama site at Clybourn and Larrabee.

The mayor's proposal has managed to upset people all over the city for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that it makes no sense to build new schools when you don't have enough operational dollars to adequately fund the existing ones.

So heckuva job, Mr. Mayor—once again.

After the mayor unveiled his plans for Obama high school last month, Paral did a three-part demographic analysis.

First, he plotted the 11 selective enrollment schools on a map of the city so you can see where they're located.

The greatest cluster is in the area of greatest wealth. Specifically, the area between North Avenue on the north and Harrison on the south and Ashland on the west currently has three selective enrollment schools and would have four if Obama high is built.

This area includes Lincoln Park, the Gold Coast, the Loop, and the near-north and near-west sides.

So it's sort of like the more money you have, the more money Mayor Emanuel's going to give to your neighborhood. (My advice is to make more money. Consider that another life lesson from your friendly columnist at the Reader.)

In addition, Paral analyzed the census tracts within a two-mile radius of the proposed location for Obama high, an area that's undergone dramatic change in the last three decades.

In 1980, the census tracts just to the south of Clybourn and Larrabee had a median income of less than $5,000. This is where much of Cabrini-Green was located.

The community to the north of the proposed high school—pregentrified Lincoln Park—had a median income of about $12,000, according to the 1980 census.

Then things changed. In particular, the CHA allowed the Cabrini-Green population to fall through attrition. Then officials used federal funds to move the people out and demolish most of Cabrini-Green. Then they closed several schools, because population had fallen.

And now that the CHA has cleared out the area, the Mayor and CPS want to build a new school. Named after the country first African-American president.

'Cause wholesale urban renewal is what President Obama is all about.

Sorry, I got a little political there.

The point is that, thanks to rampant gentrification, the median income in the census tracts around the proposed Obama high is as high as $126,000—among the highest in Chicago.

Those tracts are also predominantly white, especially in contrast to the areas around some of the other selective enrollment schools. For instance, the census tracts around Brooks high, on the far-south side, is 89.7 percent black.

So you might say that Chicago is solidifying its legacy as the country's most segregated city. Not exactly a distinction anyone should be proud of.

Selective enrollment schools draw their enrollment from all over the city. But the mayor has pledged to set aside 30 percent of Obama's enrollment for kids who live in the area.

The mayor's doing this to appease Alderman Walter Burnett, who says he wants to make sure that some residents from Cabrini-Green row houses get to go to the new school.

Of course, by the time Obama high gets built (if it does), those row houses—like the rest of Cabrini-Green—may already have been removed. So much for helping kids from Cabrini-Green.

Which is just sort of how it goes around here.

In any event, Alderman Will Burns, who's pushing for the selective enrollment hearings, says he hopes to have them in June.

Paral's research should give everyone something to talk about.

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