Kenwood Academy

Students line up at Kenwood Academy on the first day of the 2021-22 academic year, Aug. 30.

Kenwood Academy High School has many things going for it: Chicago Public Schools's highest Level 1+ academy rating, a strong feeling of pride and fellowship among thousands of students and alumni, and a multitude of extracurricular activities.

It is a neighborhood school (though students from across the South Side can and do go there through the district magnet or 7th and 8th grade academic program), the boundaries of which match exactly with Hyde Park-Kenwood: 47th Street to the Midway Plaisance, Cottage Grove Avenue to the lakefront.

At the beginning of every school year, Principal Karen Calloway says she and other administrators spend a significant amount of time turning away students trying to enroll at the school with fraudulent proof of residency.

"The big deal at Kenwood for any principal is dealing with enrollment. There's always an enrollment issue as it relates to people showing up on the first day of school with these leases that imply that they live in Hyde Park," she said in an interview. "That's always a challenge, trying to ensure that we're looking at everything very closely to ensure that we're serving the right students who live in our neighborhood boundaries."

CPS requires that parents bring a proof of their student's age and two proofs of current address, such as a current utility bill or an Illinois driver's license.

Calloway said people at Kenwood are primarily submitting doctored documents; she did not know the exact number off-hand at the time of the interview but said "many" had attempted to do so.

"In all fairness, you're trying to support the families who live in the neighborhood, within the boundaries of the school," she said. "I want to service any students who live in Hyde Park, so we want to make sure that we're focusing on the right students and families. You've really got to look at every document, you've got to be really specific with every family. And so it's something that all neighborhood high schools do as it relates to enrollment."

Kenwood enrollment had been open since March; even so, 46 students attempted to enroll on the first day, Aug. 30. "Because we're a neighborhood high school, we're enrolling oftentimes all year. But the high end of it is at the beginning of school," Calloway said. She said some parents mistakenly try to enroll their students at the high school, too.

From Calloway's perspective, CPS has many good neighborhood high schools, and she thinks that families should give them a chance rather than try to enroll in Kenwood.

"I think if they were to try to go into those schools and speak with the administrative teams, they would learn that they have many high-performing and quality programs," she said. "They do. And I really believe in the CPS neighborhood high school. I just really think that people need to do their research on which school is a best fit for their students based upon their students' career interests."

Says students enthusiastic to all be back in person

At the close of the first week back, Calloway said Kenwood students are enthusiastic about being all back in the school building again. How quiet they are is the biggest shock, but she supposes when they acclimate to being together again, they will start acting like more normal teenagers soon.

"Everybody's just so nice," she said. "They're just so happy to be here."

Some of the sophomores who have only known Kenwood through virtual learning are now trying to make friends, fostered further by school events to foster intra- and inter-class relationships. There will be, for instance, a senior-sophomore day, in which the fourth-years can teach them school chants and songs before homecoming.

Calloway said teachers benefitted from last spring's partial return to the classroom, which she characterized as a soft opening. "It gave them confidence around working in the pandemic," she said.

And Calloway did five grade-level assemblies during the first week back. The seniors talked to her about prom. Sophomores and juniors asked her about when college tours could start again.

The student council is meeting again in person. "We're getting back to normal," Calloway said. "And I think that is what stands out the most to me, is that this feels normal for students, and I think that we're definitely moving in the right direction. I think the best thing for me to do is to support our parents and students, support our teachers, and make sure that we're executing all safety measures to keep people safe."

The student council is meeting again in person. "We're getting back to normal," Calloway said. "And I think that is what stands out the most to me, is that this feels normal for students, and I think that we're definitely moving in the right direction. I think the best thing for me to do is to support our parents and students, support our teachers, and make sure that we're executing all safety measures to keep people safe."

New principal contract signed

Calloway has also gotten a new contract and will be there for five more years: another on this contract and four more on the next one. She started as principal in 2018 after serving as an assistant principal.

"I've still got a lot of stuff to do," she said, naming construction of the pedway between the main school building and the former Canter Middle School, construction of a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics laboratory and continuing enhancement of the school's technology.

"And I just love the kids," she said. "That's what makes it easy to stay. On those tough days, I just talk to my students, and that's what really gets me through it. And when I find out that another one has gotten a full ride to a different college, and I know it's because of some of the programming that I've been responsible for bringing to the school, that's what makes you stay."

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.