New Taft principal ready for changes at school


Students will notice the new lockers and windows at Taft High School when classes start next month, but new principal Mark Grishaber is hoping that the most noticeable change ultimately will be the culture of how the school operates.

Grishaber said last week that students at Taft have seemed surprised when he asks their views on issues, and he says that they better get used to it.

"I’m going to talk to every kid at the school," Grishaber said. "I will be visiting each class. I want to spend 50 percent of my time in the classroom."

When Grishaber was hired last June he said that in his experience, students react positively when they are given more responsibility and that one of the keys to success is allowing them to help formulate school policies. A community forum on possible changes in the school’s the dress code is planned for this fall.

Grishaber said that he also wants to study the possibility of allowing all students to eat their lunch outside on school grounds and permitting them to use cell phones when they are not in class.

The school allows students to bring cell phones to school but not to use them during the school day. Grishaber said that he talked to a principal at a high school which allows cell phone use and that the policy has not caused problems at that school.

Grishaber said that he also is planning to have the school’s new security director to also serve as "head of student culture." He said that security officers will be asked to find ways to interact with students in a positive manner, such as having lunch with them in the cafeteria.

The school also has hired three new assistant principals, Maria Amador, David Bell and Brian Tennison, and their focus will be on giving teachers the data they need to improve classroom instruction, Grishaber said. The fourth assistant principal is Eric Flores, who has been in the role at Taft for the past 7 years.

Taft’s average ACT score is about 1 1/2 points below the state norm, and Grishaber has said that he would like a one-point improvement in Taft’s score in 2015.

Another change at the school will be the opening of a second school entrance for all students and visitors. For the past 15 years the main entrance has been on Bryn Mawr Avenue, but last spring special needs students and Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center students were allowed to also use the entrance on Hurlbut Street and this fall the Hurlbut entrance will be open to all students.

School officials also are considering offering Advanced Placement courses to freshmen and sophomores. Many of the Academic Center graduates attend a gifted high school, and the change would be intended to encourage more of them to remain at Taft for high school, Grishaber said.

Some parents of Academic Center students have complained about "a dip in rigor" at Taft after eighth grade because the school’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Program does not start until students’ junior year, Grishaber said. Taft offers the International Baccalaureate curriculum for all students, but the diploma program is reserved for the school’s top students.

Improvements also are planned for the school auditorium, which Grishaber said he would like to make available for community events. He said he would like to see the red seats changed to Taft’s royal blue color.

Also being considered is showing movies that were released in 1939 as part of Taft’s 75th anniversary celebration. Grishaber said that the year 1939 "was maybe the greatest ever for films," citing such movies as "The Wizard of Oz," "Gone with the Wind," "Stagecoach" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Taft has been closed since mid-June due to a $17 million construction project which includes replacing lockers and windows, painting classrooms, tuckpointing and renovating the science lab, but the project is months ahead of schedule and there should be few inconveniences for students and staff when school starts next month, Grishaber said. Most of the school’s lockers were installed when it opened in 1939.

For the first time in decades students and teachers will be able to see the Chicago skyline from some of the classrooms due to the new windows, Flores said.

Taft’s old windows were covered with a white tint that made it impossible to see through. It is believed that the windows contained a gas-like substance that was intended to make them soundproof, but when the substance was exposed to air, possibly from when a window was nicked, the window turned white, according to school officials.

Despite the appealing nature of the new windows, Grishaber said he deliberately chose an office with no windows. "If I have time to look at a window, then I shouldn’t be working here," he said.

Workers install new windows at Taft High School in preparation for the start of the new school year.
The school’s original lockers also are being replaced, and the chimney on the 1939 building on the campus is being tuckpointed and repaired.
The year also will start with Mark Grishaber at Taft’s new principal.