A new, private high school that focuses not on test scores but rather on preparing students for college will open in Batavia next fall.
The Harbridge College Prep Academy is planned to be in the historic Campana factory at the corner of Route 31 and Fabyan Parkway.
The nonsectarian school is the brainchild of former Illinois education superintendent Michael Bakalis, who also is founder, president and chief executive officer of American Quality Schools.
The nonprofit group operates three school campuses in Chicago and five campuses in Indiana, and will be opening a school next fall in Michigan.
"What I really want to get away from, as an educator, is this obsession with standardized tests in this country," Bakalis said. "There is no evidence anywhere in the country that this high-stakes testing is improving student achievement. Fifty percent of the kids who start college in this country don't graduate. They are not prepared to really do true college work."
Bakalis served as state superintendent of education from 1971 to 1975 and later as deputy undersecretary in the U.S. Department of Education. He said the focus on standardized tests puts immense pressure on students and parents as well as teachers, many of whom are leaving the profession.
"I'm not against testing. I'm not against accountability. I am against having these tests be such central parts of education," he said. "We just need schools to be reasonably accountable, and those tests should be used for diagnostic purposes to help kids."
Bakalis said Harbridge Academy is for students who want to develop analytical-thinking and problem-solving abilities; strong writing, speaking and presentation skills; and understand research.
"This is what universities want," he said. "This is a school for young people who are really serious about getting into good colleges."
The teaching model is based on the idea of minimizing lectures and maximizing student learning through working collaboratively in small groups, seminars and teamwork.
Bakalis said there is a need for college preparatory schools in the Western suburbs.
The school will cater to communities in Kane and DuPage counties from Geneva to St. Charles and Elgin to Aurora, including western Naperville. Bakalis anticipates it will start out with 100 freshman students and eventually grow into a four-year school with a maximum of 325 students.
"We are not restricted by school districts or boundaries." Bakalis said. "It's kind of central to the communities that we were looking at to draw from."
Students start out paying $8,000 the first year for tuition, which will go down by $1,000 each of the following years.
"We think it's a fair price," Bakalis said, adding that most private schools cost more than $30,000 yearly.
With the growing diversity in the region, Bakalis said he hopes the school will draw students from a variety of religious traditions, and racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
"That's what this country is all about," he said. "Young people today are growing up and graduating with better views of race, ethnicity, religion than previous generations, because they have more contact with different kinds of kids. It will be the closest you could come to what a liberal arts college would be like."
For information, visit harbridgeprep.org or call (312) 492-3020 or (844) 745-1029.