Taft IB move spurs crowding concerns


The conversion of Taft High School into a school with a “wall-to-wall” International Baccalaureate Program curriculum is intended to attract more local children to the school, but questions remain about how many more students Taft can accommodate.

It was reported at the March 12 meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council that about 190 parents from the Edgebrook, Wildwood and Sauganash neighborhoods recently attended two separate meetings to learn about the magnet-level program that will be implemented for all students. Traditionally Taft has struggled to attract students from those neighborhoods.

When the LSC asked Taft principal Mary Kay Cappitelli if the school plans to discuss the International Baccalaureate Program at other feeder schools, she responded that the school is doing so on request. “Edgebrook and Sauganash invited Taft,” Cappitelli said. “It is not so much that we have to reach out. We’re overcrowded as it is.”

Taft’s enrollment is expected to be as high as 3,300 next fall, assistant principal Eric Flores said. The school’s current enrollment of about 3,100 students is its highest in about 40 years, and it is more than double the school’s enrollment in the late 1990s, a time when Taft had poor relationships with its feeder schools and filled classrooms with transfer students.

Under the International Baccalaureate model, Taft will remain a neighborhood school that accepts any student living in its attendance area. The program, which encourages critical thinking and work on independent projects, will be offered on different tracks that students can choose based on their academic background.

Cappitelli also announced that a new funding formula for all schools is based on the number of students instead of on the number of teaching positions, which for high schools was based on one teacher for every 28 students. The change is designed to give principals more flexibility on how funds can be used.

Cappitelli said that the new formula is still being worked out and that it is not known how and when schools will receive funding for late-enrolling students. About 200 students enrolled at Taft either at the end of last August or in September, according to Flores.

Also at the meeting, Cappitelli said that fund-raising for the school has become increasingly more important because schools no longer receive a discretionary fund for infrastructure improvements and repairs. In the past Taft received $200,000 for such expenditures, and it usually spent all of the budgeted amount, but starting last fall schools must submit requests to the central office for each project. Taft has several requests that are pending.

LSC parent member Lisa Schwieger said that those who are organizing the J.J. Stamm tribute concert on June 1 are considering forming a nonprofit corporation that would benefit Taft. Proceeds from the tribute to Stamm, who was a longtime music teacher at the school, will be used to buy a baby grand piano for the school.

Several members of Taft’s class of 1970 are helping to coordinate the tribute, and a list of alumni who attend the concert will made available for other Taft events, Schwieger said. Tickets are available at www.jjstammtafttribute.com.

LSC chairman Ted Pirpiris said after the meeting that he would like the Taft Alumni Association, which was formed in the early 1980s, to sponsor more fund-raising activities and to resume sending a representative to council meetings. Pirpiris plans to meet with the association’s board.

The association has a database of 16,000 alumni, including 3,600 paid members. Dues are $15 for 2 years and $20 per couple.

The association sponsors college scholarships for Taft students, maintains an alumni hall of fame, mails a quarterly newsletter to its members and in 1989 helped organize the school’s 50th anniversary celebration, according to association president Kay Kuciak. Over the years the association has paid for new band uniforms and has sponsored several Drama Department shows, Kuciak said.

It also was reported that the school is taking disciplinary action against five students for selling drugs. Taft dean Sam Duarte, who serves on the LSC, said that it has become increasingly difficult to expel students for drug offenses in part because the alternative schools are overcrowded and that in some instances students may be eligible for a 45-day emergency removal or to be assigned to a 6-week Saturday program in which parents must attend two of the sessions.

The school is planning to conduct a surprise locker search in which drug-sniffing dogs will check lockers while students are in the classroom. The school conducted similar locker searches last year, but students were not in the school during those searches.

It also was reported that the Taft Garden Club was awarded a Kitchen Community grant for a planned learning garden. The grant will provide 12 garden beds, seating, a shade structure and two art poles.

All departments will have the opportunity to incorporate the garden into their curriculum. Those interested in donating to the garden are asked to call Marianne Villasenor at 773-534-1050.

The next LSC meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, at the school, 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.

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