Harper High School (Chicago)

Harper High School
Harper High School (Chicago, Illinois).jpg
6520 S. Wood Street


United States
Coordinates41°46′30″N 87°40′11″W / 41.7750°N 87.6697°W / 41.7750; -87.6697Coordinates:41°46′30″N 87°40′11″W / 41.7750°N 87.6697°W / 41.7750; -87.6697
School type
Motto"Focus on today, Preparing for tomorrow."
ClosedJune 30, 2021
School districtChicago Public Schools
CEEB code140855[1]
PrincipalLeonetta C. Sanders
Enrollment19 (2020–2021; final graduating class of seniors)[2]
Campus typeUrban
Color(s)  White
Athletics conferenceChicago Public League[3]
Team nameCardinals
AccreditationNorth Central Association of Colleges and Schools

William Rainey Harper High School was a public four-year high school located in the West Englewood neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, United States. Opened in 1911, Harper was part of the Chicago Public Schools district. Harper served students in West Englewood and certain streets of Chicago Lawn,[5] and was noted as the oldest high school in the West Englewood neighborhood. Harper closed at the end of the 2020–2021 school year on June 30, 2021.[6]


Opened in 1911 by the Chicago Public Schools district and Chicago Board of Education, The school was named in honor of William Rainey Harper (1856–1906), a legendary educator who served as president of both the University of Chicago and Bradley University, and who was a champion of modernizing the facilities and standardizing the academic curriculum of the Chicago Public Schools. The majority of the school's students were African-American. In 2008, Harper was the first public school in Chicago to be a part of the Turnaround project started by former Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan.[7] Harper High School was a non-selective enrollment high school with attendance boundaries. Students within the attendance boundary were immediately enrolled without a form of admission. Those outside of the boundary had to receive permission from the school to enroll. If there are more applications than spots available, the school would perform a computerized lottery. Harper High School had form a program called B.A.G. The letters stands for "Behavior, Attendance, and Grades". Harper had won the AP School Award four times (1976–1977, 1982–1983, 2008–2009 and 2012–2013).[8]

National attention

On September 24, 2010, Harper High School gained national attention when the school was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The show discussed Harper High School's lack of computers and other essential learning tools for its students.[9]

On July 9, 2012, Harper High School was the focus of a 2012 WBEZ report[10] concerning the 29 past and present students who were casualties of gun violence in the preceding 13 months. The school was subsequently the subject of a two-episode, five-month immersive investigation by This American Life that aired on February 15 and 22, 2013, focusing on gun violence and the lives of students;[11] the series earned a Peabody Award.[12]

In April 25, 2013, two Harper senior students; Devonte Tanner and Brittney Knight, won Bill Gates Millennium Scholarships. They were the first students in Chicago school history to do so.[13]

On October 29, 2014, School officials reported that 5 people at Harper High School in Chicago's West Englewood neighborhood were taken to different hospitals after they became ill because of the odor. Fire department officials said they have tested carbon monoxide levels in the school, but found them to be quite low. Instead, a fire department spokesman says the smell appears to be coming from sewer gas, and sanitation crews had been doing work. Students and staff were taken to other schools while the Chicago Fire Department investigated the cause of the odor. They also shut the boiler down in the school as a serious precaution.[14]

Phasing out and closing

In February 12, 2018, the Chicago Board of Education decided to phase out and ultimately close Harper[15][16] along with three other neighborhood high schools due numerous reasons including low–enrollment, poor academic performance, lack of courses offerings for students and operational costs of the buildings.[17] Harper graduated it's final class of 19 seniors and closed after the 2020–2021 school year on June 30, 2021.


Harper competed in the Chicago Public League (CPL) and was a member of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA). Harper sports teams were nicknamed Cardinals. The boys' basketball team were the four time regional champions. (2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2015–16). The chess team was rank Class AA only once during the 1975–1976 season.[18] The boys' football team were Class 4A and team qualifier for state finals eleven times (1984–85, 1985–86, 1986–87, 1990–91, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 2000–01, 2010–11, 2011–12 and 2012–13).

Notable alumni

  • Cal Lepore – (attended), former NFL referee (1966–1980)
  • John Kennedy – (Class of 1959), former MLB baseball player (1962–1974)
  • James Meeks – (Class of 1974), founder and senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church, and former Democratic member of the Illinois Senate
  • Wayne Smith – (Class of 1975), former NFL football player (1980–1987)


  1. ^ "High School Code Search". College Board. October 17, 2016. Retrieved May 9, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Search for Public Schools – School Detail for Harper High School". nces.ed.gov. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  3. ^ "Chicago (Harper)". Illinois High School Association (IHSA). December 31, 2009. Retrieved September 12, 2021.
  4. ^ Yearbooks: Harper High School (Chicago)
  5. ^ "West Central South" (high school zones). Chicago Public Schools. July 19, 2013. Retrieved on January 11, 2017.
  6. ^ CTU Local, The Fight To Save Chicago Public Schools' Harper High School, March 2020
  7. ^ Harper High School's Turnaround
  8. ^ "Log into Facebook". Cite uses generic title (help)
  9. ^ "Harper High School's Turnaround".
  10. ^ Lutton, Linda (July 9, 2012). "The weight of the city's violence, on one school principal". WBEZ. Retrieved March 2, 2013.
  11. ^ This American Life Episode 487
  12. ^ "Harper High School".
  13. ^ Harper High boasts two Gates Millennium Scholars, despite school's struggle with violence Archived April 25, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Harper High School evacuated due to 'strong chemical smell'". October 29, 2014.
  15. ^ South Side Weekly – Losing Harper High School – March 21, 2018
  16. ^ Preservation Chicago – Chicago Public Schools Proposes to Close Historic Harper High School
  17. ^ Chicago Tribune – CPS puts brakes on school closing plan, will phase out 3 Englewood high schools over 3 years – February 12, 2018
  18. ^ IHSA: Chicago (Harper)

External links

Media files used on this page

Harper High School (Chicago, Illinois).jpg


, Licence: CC-BY-SA-4.0

W.R. Harper High School, Chicago, IL.