GEMS World Academy downtown closes high school program

DOWNTOWN — GEMS World Academy, a private school in Lakeshore East, is suspending its high school program because its future in Chicago is in limbo.

The school at 350 E. South Water St. opened in 2014 and serves about 400 K-12 students, according to Database of international schools. Annual tuition fees are $28,500 to $38,800.

Tracey Wood, co-head of school at GEMS, said all students have a place to learn until the end of the school year, but headteachers are scrambling to place their eighth leavers, ninth and tenth in other schools. It would affect about a dozen current high school students, Wood said.

It is unclear why the school is phasing out its high school curriculum. Grade 11 students will be kept at GEMS until graduation due to a rigorous two-year junior curriculum, Wood said.

“Our situation is that we are currently in negotiations. And we very much hope that we will have clarity on a solution for our long-term sustainability. We hope to hear something in the next two weeks,” Wood said. “In the meantime, we are focusing our resources on our highly successful K-8 programs.

Wood declined to answer a question about who the school was negotiating with or what issue. At the end of the talks, parents should know if the school will be in Chicago for the “foreseeable future,” Wood said.

All the parents have known since October and have been told they should have a “plan B” for their children while negotiations continue, Wood said.

GEMS’ Chicago location is one of 250 schools worldwide, all part of the Dubai-based parent company GEMS Education.

In 2019, the school announced it was expanding its downtown campus, adding a nine-story building to its existing building in the Lakeshore East area, according to Crain. The addition would have expanded the school’s capacity to accommodate secondary school students.

But the construction stopped in 2020 during the pandemic, and the construction is not finished yet. This left GEMS secondary students without a dedicated school building. The school rents a suite that was designed as a nearby school, Wood said.

With no dedicated facilities for high school students, it has been more difficult for GEMS to retain its eighth-graders. On average, about 50 to 60 percent of eighth graders stay at GEMS for high school, Wood said.

“For some families, there are CPS [high] schools that fit the bill and don’t require tuition, which can also be appealing to families,” Wood said.

The school hopes to conclude negotiations in the coming weeks and is focusing its resources on eighth graders and younger, Wood said.

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