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updated: 5/13/2010 4:48 PM

Luther North announces buyer, plans to ramp up academics

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By Kerry Lester

Luther High School North formally announced Thursday it has been spared from foreclosure.

Chicago's New Life Church has purchased the school building, which Luther plans to rent back.

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Marketing Director Jason Honig declined to reveal the price of the sale, or the amount the school will pay to rent the property, noting financial details are still being worked out.

It's been a roller coaster month for Luther North, once billed as the largest Lutheran High School in the world.

Drawing students from Lutheran grade schools across the suburbs and the Northwest Side of Chicago, Luther North boasted 1,400 students in the early 1970s - making it the single largest Lutheran high school in existence.

With enrollment this year at just 210 students, a majority on financial aid, officials learned in late March that the school would be foreclosed upon by the Lutheran Church Extension Fund if it could not pay off nearly $2 million in debt.

After an ambitious attempt to raise the money through fundraisers, the school in late April entered contract negotiations with New Life, Chicago Tabernacle Church, and Uno Charter School Network.

Honig said the school plans to utilize New Life, which has several locations throughout Chicago, "as an extension for our recruitment efforts."

The school also plans to develop plans for busing students in from the suburbs, Honig said, to increase its numbers. The school, which has a median ACT score of 21-near the state average-also plans to revamp its curriculum to raise the academic bar, Honig said. That includes more opportunities for advanced placement courses.

"We can't let a good crisis go to waste," he said. "It opened up our eyes. We could not continue existing as we had been."

Other local private high schools haven't been so lucky.

Driscoll Catholic High School in Addison closed its doors last May, despite a last-ditch effort by supporters that raised nearly $1 million in 20 days.

The Christian Brothers, the order that ran the school, originally announced plans to close Driscoll on April 2 - one day after tuition rates were to be frozen at $7,000.

A committee representing students, parents, administrators, alumni and the public responded by mounting a campaign to save the school.

But Christian Brothers rejected the alternate operating plan and said the school would need "millions more" than the money that was raised.

Luther, celebrating its centennial this year, intends to call the next academic year, "Year Won."

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