Taft High School hopes to improve performance


by BRIAN NADIG

Taft High School is hoping to move up on the performance scale set by the Chicago Public Schools.

"What I see for Taft is that I want it to be a Level 1 school, and I think that we have everything in place. We have a fantastic faculty," principal Mary Kay Cappitelli said at the Sept. 3 meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council. "I think we have as much to offer as any selective enrollment school."

The school system evaluates each high school on several factors, including average ACT score, dropout rate, freshman on-track rate, percentage of students meeting state standards and attendance rate.

Schools are a rating of Level 1 (excellent), Level 2 (good) or Level 3 (probation). Taft is a Level 2 school.

Cappitelli said that last school year’s average ACT composite score at Taft was 19, its highest in about 6 years, and that she has set a goal of 20 for next year. Last spring the average ACT score in Illinois was 20.6 out of a maximum score of 36, compared to an average of 20.9 in 2012.

Taft’s average attendance rate in 2012-13 was 90.2 percent, its freshman on-track rate was 82.9 percent, and its graduation rate was 77.8 percent. "Those three are record highs for Taft," Cappitelli said.

Taft also recorded its highest score on the reading portion of the Prairie State Achievement Examination, on which 53.4 percent of Taft’s juniors met state standards, Cappitelli said. The scores were 42.9 percent in mathematics and 36.9 percent in science.

Cappitelli told the LSC that she would like to see the average scores on the Prairie State exam increase by about 2 percentage points next spring. The school, which is implementing an International Baccalaureate Program curriculum in all subjects, also is seeking to achieve an 80 percent graduation rate.

Also at the meeting, concerns were expressed about the crowded conditions at Taft, where the enrollment of 3,230 students is at its highest in about 40 years. Cappitelli said that she submitted a request to the school system for a possible change in Taft’s attendance area boundaries in order to slow the pace of the school’s enrollment gains.

The school also is considering creating a second student entrance on Hurlbut Street in order to reduce the lines of students waiting to go through the main entrance on Bryn Mawr Avenue, Cappitelli said. The main student entrance was on Hurlbut until about 15 years ago.

Cappitelli said that the school also continues to have problems with nonresident students using a false address in order to gain enrollment at Taft. Some cases have been referred to the Law Department, but investigations involving the validity of a student’s home address can be lengthy, she said.

"I think there are several things we need to look at under a microscope real soon," LSC chairwoman Lisa Schwieger said. Schwieger said that members of the council should attend hearings on space utilization issues which the school system is facing.

Taft’s enrollment exceeds what the school system considers ideal for the size of the building by about 1,000 students, according to the school’s space utilization report.

The LSC also approved a benefit tribute concert to the late Terry Kath which will be held Friday, Nov. 15, at the school. The concert, which will be performed by members of the Chicago Transit Anthology band, is expected to raise about $4,300 for Taft’s Music Department.

Kath, who graduated from Taft in 1964, was the lead guitarist of the rock band Chicago. He died in 1978 of an accidental gunshot wound to the head.

The LSC appointed two new parent members to the council after it received more than a half-dozen applications for the vacancies. Melanie Moorehouse, who also serves on the Farnsworth School Local School Council, and Joe McFeely, who is an assistant basketball coach at Taft, were seated at the Sept. 3 meeting.

Also new to the council are high school student member Cristian Contreras and Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center representative Kristen Rigsby.

The council plans to meet at 6 p.m. the first Tuesday of the month expect in January and June.


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