Walter Payton College Preparatory High School

Walter Payton College Prep
1034 N. Wells Street


United States
Coordinates41°54′05″N 87°38′04″W / 41.901389°N 87.634444°W / 41.901389; -87.634444Coordinates:41°54′05″N 87°38′04″W / 41.901389°N 87.634444°W / 41.901389; -87.634444
TypePublic Secondary Magnet
OversightChicago Public Schools
PrincipalFareeda Shabazz[2]
Number of students1,222 (2020)[1]
Campus typeUrban
Color(s)Navy Blue 
NewspaperThe Paw Print

Walter Payton College Preparatory High School (commonly known as Payton College Prep, or simply Payton) is a top-rated public 4-year selective enrollment magnet high school located in the Old Town neighborhood on the north side of Chicago, Illinois, United States. It is currently ranked the No. 1 public high school in the State of Illinois, and No. 4 in the United States, by U.S. News & World Report.[3]


Walter Payton College Prep, founded in 2000, is part of the Chicago Public Schools system. The school, which is located on Chicago's near north side, is one of the city's nine selective enrollment high schools. It was named after football legend Walter Payton, a former star halfback for the Chicago Bears and humanitarian who died at age 45 of a rare liver disease shortly before the school opened.[4] The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award is also named after Payton, and the Payton school colors are blue and orange, the colors of the Chicago Bears.[5]

The school is known for its advanced academic programs provided within an international model for teaching and learning.[6][7] In May 2006 the Confucius Institute in Chicago was opened at Payton, as a partnership between Chicago Public Schools, the Office of Chinese Language Council International and Shanghai's East China Normal University. It is the only Confucius Institute in the world housed in a high school. On January 21, 2011, President Hu Jintao of China visited the school, where he saw the KAM and AP Chinese classes, and invited 20 faculty and students to China for the upcoming summer.[8] The Payton Choir was one of eight US choirs to travel to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.[9]

In September 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to build a new annex behind the original building to house more students. The annex was completed and opened by the beginning of the 2016 school year. The annex features a new gym and a black box theater. It cost $17 million to build.[10]


Payton has been ranked the No. 1 public high school in the State of Illinois by U.S. News & World Report since 2019.[11] In 2015, Newsweek ranked it the top public high school in the state and No. 10 in the nation.[12] In recent years it also has been the most difficult in which to gain admission among Chicago's elite selective enrollment schools, with freshman applicants needing a minimum cutoff score of 898 out of 900 points to make the first cut for the 2020-21 school year.[13]

In 2010, the school won the Intel School of Distinction awards in the categories of Excellence in Mathematics and Star Innovator for incorporating technology into classes, collaborative lesson and course planning, and use of Japanese Lesson Study.[14]


Walter Payton College Prep is 44.1% White, 21.5% Hispanic, 19.1% Asian, 10.1% Black, and 5.2% other. 27.7% of students are from low-income households.[15]


Payton competes in the Chicago Public League (CPL) and is a member of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA). Its girls volleyball team has made three appearances in the IHSA Class 3A state finals, finishing fourth in 2009, 2011 and 2014.[16] The Girls Varsity tennis team won State Championships in 2018 and has placed in Cities multiple times.


In 2014, former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, then a first-time candidate for governor and resident of suburban Winnetka, Illinois, was forced to respond to reports on the campaign trail that he had used political clout to get one of his daughters admitted to Payton six years earlier.[17][18][19] Rauner, a venture capitalist who had a second residence in Chicago, initially denied the reports. However, it was later revealed that Rauner had called then-Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan to overturn his daughter's initial rejection for admission. In 2009, the Rauner Family Foundation donated $250,000 to the Payton Prep Initiative for Education, the largest donation the not-for-profit had received up to that point.[20][21]

In May 2019, principal Timothy Devine ordered all of the yearbooks for the 2018-2019 school year reprinted due to contents showing students displaying the "ok" sign with their fingers below the waist, with the intention of getting others to look. The website 4chan associated the "ok" hand gesture as being a symbol of white supremacy, although this thought has since died out and there is no evidence that the kids had any racist intentions.[22][23] Reprinting of all of the yearbooks cost the administration $22,485.[24]

According to an October 2019 news article published by WBEZ, the school has dealt with a number of racist incidents, including Black students being called the N-word and bananas being thrown at them. In the same article, principal Timothy Devine claimed that the incidents were a natural product of students from different backgrounds being brought together. The school’s Black enrollment dropped from 25% of the student body in the 2008-09 school year, to 11% in the 2018-19 school year; proportionally, this equates to a 56% decline in Black student population.[25]


  1. ^ "School Pages - Payton". Chicago Public Schools. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  2. ^ "School Pages - Payton". Chicago Public Schools. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  3. ^ "Best High Schools in Illinois". US News & World Report. Retrieved 9 May 2021.
  4. ^ Lichtenstein, Walter (October 15, 2000). "Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
  5. ^ "Evolution of the Bears colors". Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  6. ^ "5 CPS High Schools Among Top 100 in Nation".
  7. ^ "School Pages - Payton". Chicago Public Schools. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  8. ^ China’s President Hu Tours Walter Payton Prep « CBS Chicago
  9. ^ Walter Payton College Prep
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-06-15. Retrieved 2017-05-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ May, Ashley. "America's best high schools in 2019, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report". USA TODAY.
  12. ^ Illinois, Reboot; process, ContributorA non-partisan organization dedicated to involving Illinois residents in the state's political (25 August 2015). "17 of the Best Illinois High School Ranked by Newsweek". HuffPost.
  13. ^ "CPS Cutoff Scores". Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  14. ^
  15. ^ "School Pages - Payton". Chicago Public Schools. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  16. ^ "Records & History".
  17. ^ Hinz, Greg (24 April 2013). "Bruce Rauner clouted kid into Payton high school, sources say". Crain's Chicago Business.
  18. ^ Novak, Tim (13 January 2014). "Rauner gave Payton $250K after daughter was admitted". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  19. ^ Bogira, Steve (21 October 2014). "Bruce Rauner's ethical dilemma". Chicago Reader.
  20. ^ Novak, Tim (13 January 2014). "Rauner gave Payton $250K after daughter was admitted". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  21. ^ "Bruce Rauner defends donations to Walter Payton College Prep High School in Chicago | ABC7 Chicago |". ABC7 Chicago.
  22. ^ "Is the OK Sign Racist? Cubs Fan's Hand Gesture Sparks Outrage, Confusion".
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Another Chicago-area high school will reprint yearbooks because of 'OK' sign photo controversy".
  25. ^ "Racial Issues Flare at Chicago's Elite Payton College Prep | WBEZ". Retrieved 2019-10-09.

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