Residents learn about plan to open Rickover Naval Academy at former Luther North
by BRIAN NADIG
The Chicago Public Schools’ Rickover Naval Academy, which is opening this September inside the former Luther North High School, may have a military theme, but the vast majority of its students attend college with at least $100,000 on average in scholarship.
Since its inception in 2005, Rickover has been operating inside Senn High School, 5900 B. Glenwood Ave. About 450 students will be enrolled at Rickover when it opens this fall at it new Portage Park campus at 5700 W. Berteau Ave., with an anticipated maximum enrollment in a few years of around 750.
“We’re kind of a private school experience at a public school price,” Rickover principal Michael Biela told a crowd of about 125 people at an April 30 informational session hosted by Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th). Rickover is one of six military academies in the school system.
It was reported that planned improvements for the building, which New Life Community Church had owned and occupied for several years, include roof repairs, tuckpointing, an upgraded fire alarm system, the installation of a new heating system and replacement of select window air-conditioning units in the classrooms. The estimated cost of the project is $22 million, and the work is being overseen by the Public Building Commission.
Biela said that the academy’s curriculum focuses on fostering leadership qualities, both in the classroom and in extracurricular activities, and that one of the academy’s strengths is its high scores in academic growth for students. He added that 100 percent of the academy’s graduates are accepted to college.
While applicants are judged on several factors, including grades and test scores, there is no entrance exam and the academy mainly seeks “hard workers,” Biela said. A questionnaire filled out by applicants helps determine their work ethic, he said.
Plans are being made to set aside 30 percent of the enrollment slots for freshmen who live in the community and meet the application criteria, but the boundaries for the preference zone have not been set.
The curriculum includes a wide range of Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses, which allow students to earn college credit while in high school, Biela said. Student also take naval science and are given opportunities to travel for a variety of educational experiences, including international destinations, he said.
In addition, Rickover offers about 50 sports and other after-school activities, including one of only two sailing clubs in the school system, Biela said.
Due to the small size of the cafeteria, some students may be able to leave campus for lunch, Biela said.
Some of the questions at the meeting centered on potential disruptions which the school could cause for the neighborhood, including parking congestion.
Few problems are anticipated given that Rickover’s enrollment should never be no more than about half of the 1,500 students which Luther North had during its heyday, Sposato said.
Teachers will be able to park in the school’s lot, and students will be encouraged to park along the campus side of the adjacent side streets, Biela said. He added that there are no plans to install lights for the athletic field and that the school will be closing at 6 p.m.
Outdoor weekend activities will be mostly limited to Saturday morning makeup games for soccer and other sports due to weather-related cancellations earlier in the week, Biela said.
Some residents noted that there is no sidewalk along the Cullom Avenue side of the campus, and Sposato said that it is a matter of finding the funds to install a block-long stretch of sidewalk.
Luther North closed in the spring of 2017. At the time, New Life owned the property and had been sharing the facility with the school.