How Hope became hope for kids

How Hope became hope for kids
January 25, 2012, 5:55 pm
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Bob Muzikowski has a message for President Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago:

"If you want to affect the schools, put your own kids in it," he said.

Muzikowski, who owns his own small insurance brokerage company, put his money and his children where his mouth is.

Eight years ago, he and some friends bought St. Callistus elementary school from the Chicago Archdiocese for 1.9 million, then spent 5 million to rehab the building. Seven years ago, he opened Hope Academy, a co-educational, non-denominational Christian college and life preparatory school.

Located at 2189 W. Bowler, Hope Academy opened with 30 sophomores and 40 freshmen and has increased its enrollment to 157 with a planned maximum of 240. Three of Muzikowski's seven children have graduated from Hope. Two have gone on to Ivy League schools. Three other children currently are attending Hope and a 9-year-old will go there, too.

"We are dedicated to nurturing the whole person--body, mind and spirit--to the glory of God," said Muzikowski, who serves as the school's chief administrator and spends 50 hours a week in the building.

"I wanted to even the playing field for inner city kids. Not all private schools should be for rich kids or racially segregated. Our graduates have been accepted at Georgetown, Notre Dame, Columbia, Carnegie Mellon, Illinois and Wheaton College.

"The assumption is that minority schools have to be second-rate and that isn't the case. We just have to buckle down and do the work. We're about educating young boys and turning them into men. Our average ACT score is the highest in the city for a non-magnet school, 21.5."

Born in Bayonne, New Jersey, Muzikowski played baseball and football at Columbia University. He was the first in his family to go to college. His father dropped out of high school to fight in World War II.

Muzikowski moved to Chicago as a newlywed in 1988 and moved into an apartment a block away from the Cabrini Green housing project on the near West Side. He was an insurance agent. His wife was a trader for J.P. Morgan. He started a Little League in Cabrini in 1991.

Along the way, he met Mike Edwards, a 1987 graduate of Elston High School in Michigan City, Indiana, and a former baseball player at Valparaiso University.

"How do we affect change in their lives?" Muzikowski asked Edwards after he began coaching the Little Leaguers. "Open a school."

"We wanted to make a difference," said Edwards, who is in his fourth year as Hope's basketball coach.

Hope Academy, often confused with Hope High School, is not affiliated with the Chicago Public Schools or the Chicago Archdiocese. It is an independent school, like Latin School or Francis Parker or Chicago Lab. Its faculty includes 10 graduates of Wheaton College.

"Teachers are lining up out the door to work at a school that is organized and disciplined," Muzikowski said. "We're old school. The harder we work, the luckier we get."

The basketball team is 17-2 and rated among the favorites to win the Class 1A championship. Its only losses were to highly rated Huntley and St. Ignatius. But the Eagles have beaten Class 3A power Marshall, which won a state championship in 2008. It conducts practices and plays "home" games at Tim Grover's Attack Athletics training facility on the West Side.

"It would be great for morale if we won (the 1A title)," Muzikowski said, "but our goal is for the kids to try hard and compete with other teams. It is more important to build young men of character. Sports is as important as history and biology. When I was a kid, I would have died to win a state championship."