Taft planning to open second entrance


Taft High School is planning to open a second student entrance in an effort to get more students to their first class on time.

Acting principal Carolyn Rownd reported at the Feb. 4 meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council that 660 of Taft’s 3,200 students were late to school, which starts at 7:45 a.m., on Jan. 31. The school recently stopped allowing students who arrive after 8 a.m. to attend their first class after other students complained that late students were disrupting class, she said.

In many instances students arrive early but wait in their cars, and the last-minute rush of students to the entrance is too overwhelming to get them through security and to class on time, Rownd said. "They reek of smoke and get out of their cars at 7:40 a.m.," she said.

The school is considering several changes that are aimed at reducing tardiness. "We are going to give positive consequences to those students who are here by 7:30 a.m.," Rownd said.

Plans also call for Taft to open a second student entrance on Hurlbut Street, which at least initially will be restricted to disabled students who arrive by school bus and to students in the Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center. Taft is waiting to get additional metal detectors before the Hurlbut entrance opens later this semester.

The student entrance was on Hurlbut until the late 1990s, but it was moved to Bryn Mawr Avenue in part because of complaints that students were being disruptive in the neighborhood. Hurlbut runs between Taft and Norwood Park, 5801 N. Natoma Ave., while the Bryn Mawr entrance faces the Kennedy Expressway and is about half a block west of Nagle Avenue.

Also at the meeting, it was announced that the number of Taft students who meet state standards is on the rise, but the school is experiencing a decline in the number of students who are achieving their expected growth gains in core academic areas. The school’s transition to a full International Baccalaureate Program school should help stop the decline, Rownd said.

"We are not seeing the growth which we want to see with our students," Rownd said. About 44 percent of Taft’s students met their expected growth gains in reading last year, compared to 51 percent in 2012.

The International Baccalaureate Program provides development training for teachers and requires independent study and critical thinking to be a major component of the curriculum. "They don’t need to teach to the test," Rownd said in response to a parent’s question. "They need to teach good skills."

Rownd said that an indication that the school is heading in the right direction is its strong on-track graduation rate for freshmen of 83 percent. "I attribute that to a faculty that is spending a tremendous amount of time with your children," she said. "I have a lot of faith in the teachers and students here."

Last year 45 percent of Taft’s high students met or exceeded state standards compared, to 39 percent in 2012. The academic center, which is a gifted program, traditionally posts standardized test scores that are in the 90th to 100th percentile range.

Also at the meeting, Rownd said that the bidding process for a $17 million improvement project at Taft will start this winter. The project, which is scheduled to be completed by 2015, will include new windows and lockers, tuckpointing and renovated science labs.

It also was reported that the school’s third-floor bathrooms were reopened after they had been closed due to vandalism and student smoking. "Unfortunately, within two weeks the bathrooms were messed up pretty bad," Rownd said.

In a more positive note, Rownd said, an increasing number of students who are fed up with the condition of the bathrooms "are coming to me and asking what we can do."

Taft dean of students Sam Duarte, who serves on the LSC, displayed a box of electronic cigarettes that were confiscated from students. Several of the cigarettes resembled a pen, and one of the ways that they operate is through a heating element that vaporizes a liquid solution, which may contain nicotine.

"This is just some of the stuff we are dealing with in the bathrooms," Duarte said, calling it "an uphill battle." Students caught with cigarettes will be issued a detention or suspension, and older students could be referred to police for a citation, Duarte said.

Taft High School Foundation president Richard Winge offered to provide matching funds if the school can raise half of the $6,000 cost of resurfacing one of the school’s smaller gymnasiums. He also offered to pay half of the $2,500 needed to improve the floor of a stage at the school.

"That was quite a challenge he put forth," LSC chairwoman Lisa Schwieger said. Donations can be made at www.tafthsfoundation.org.

Rownd is scheduled to serve as the school’s acting principal until June 30. Principal Mary Kay Cappitelli is on medical leave, and the council cannot hire a replacement unless Cappitelli were to retire.

The next LSC meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, at the school, 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.