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Time For Goodbyes At Capitol College Preparatory Academy

  School lets out for the summer today in district 186. That means the end of a three year run for a middle school thats closure was hotly debated in Springfield. As the school board took multiple votes on whether to keep the Capitol College Preparatory Academy, or CCPA, open – parents, teachers, and students showed up in droves to fight for their school. But the battle to keep the school that taught grades 6 through 8 open has been lost. Listen to the story:


Here’s an interview with a CCPA parent and PTO president, Robert Ogden:



If you walk by the large brick building at 15th street, on the east side of town, not much indicates it was ever the home of the Capitol College Preparatory Academy. The building opened over eighty years ago. Inscribed across its entrance: Feitshans High School – a school that closed back in the sixties when enrollment became too large for capacity…

This time around, the closure is a much different story. Last week the academy hosted it’s first and last 8th grade graduation.

Isaiah Thomas is one of the graduates. He’s getting a picture with his teacher after the ceremony. His mother Charlon says he’s done well here. She especially appreciated the separation of boys from girls and the focus on STEM courses – those involving science, technology, engineering, and math:

CHARLON THOMAS: “Coming into class he wasn’t doing well in math, but he has gained all the skills he needs in order to be successful later on.”

Isaiah participated in after-school programs that paired students with the Illinois Department of Transportation to teach them about engineering. He says it’s sad to know his class is the only to graduate:

ISAIAH THOMAS: “The older kids, they were kind of bummed, even though we’re going to high school. I mean it wouldn’t directly affect us, but they were still bummed. They wanted to be able to come back here and tell their teachers that they went to college and stuff.”

Isaiah says he plans to go to Springfield High School, and after that, university – maybe studying zoology.

Isaiah’s teacher Denise Petty spoke at the graduation ceremony, telling students theyimparted lessons to their teachers by creating a positive campus culture and far exceeding expectations when it came to academic performance. Petty, who’s been a teacher for fifteen years, says at CCPA she was impressed by the teachers, administration, and community coming together to support the students:

PETTY: “This experience here really kind of revitalized my excitement about teaching. Because I teach not only to dispense knowledge, but also to affect student’s lives. And so in this environment I’ve truly had the opportunity to affect my kids’ lives.”

The school aimed at putting a diverse group of kids, many from low-income homes, on the path to higher ed. Its curriculum, which included giving students the same two teachers all three years, was molded after the best practices of similar academies across the nation, says principal Chris Colgren:

COLGREN: “We certainly maintained a philosophy that every child in this program is unique, important, and brilliant. And they do in fact have a divine right to achieve their maximum potential. And I think it was really that underlying philosophy that allowed us to do the kind of things that we were able to do and see students who had traditionally been less successful within academic settings really thrive in this program.”

The school’s closure comes after a tumultuous round of school board meetings. The board voted twice on whether or not to close it, and some district employees were involved in a leak of the names and grades of CCPA students in what was thought to be an effort to discredit the school’s academic growth.

Despite the academy’s demise, Principal Colgren had a message of unity to impart on its graduates before they crossed the stage in their navy-colored uniforms:

COLGREN: “We are nothing without everyone in the group participating and that’s exactly what we’ve been able to achieve over the past 3 years. The contributions that individual scholars have made have been remarkable and they have shown us the true brilliance that lies within each and every one of those who sit in this auditorium today.”

In nearly any district of Springfield’s size, the closures, openings, and alterations of schools are inevitable. For now, the building on the east side that housed CCPA’s three year run will become a K through 5 elementary school; two elementaries are being consolidated there.

Rachel Otwell of the Illinois Times is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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