Taft teachers may get laptops


Laptop computers for teachers, staffing changes and an improvement in the school’s ACT average score were discussed at the Aug. 19 meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council.

All of the issues were raised during the council’s discussion of the school’s proposed $2.4 million discretionary budget, which consists of the funds that the school receives from the federal free and reduced-cost lunch program. Taft principal Mark Grishaber said that he will seek the opinions of the faculty on the budget, and the council plans to vote on the budget at its meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 9.

The budget includes a $30,000 request for extended-day registration, which would pay for additional teachers to work class registration in the summer.

Grishaber said that it is estimated that Taft leaves $200,000 "on the table" by failing to get all qualifying students to apply for the lunch program and that the additional help at registration should help address the issue.

The budget also includes a $200,000 request for the purchase of 220 laptop computers for the faculty. The school’s current laptops primarily are used by students, but under the proposal each teacher would receive one.

Grishaber said that it is estimated that about 90 percent of the staff would use a laptop. He said that due to the school’s crowded conditions, teachers do not have access to classrooms during their breaks and that having a laptop would allows them to do their work in the faculty lounge or elsewhere.

The proposed also includes $150,000 for 12 part-time Chicago police officers. Grishaber said that in the past the officers worked 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays but that he wants their schedule revised so that the school would have officers in the building from 6:15 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. and on Saturdays. Grishaber plans to ask the Chicago Park District to contribute to the security costs since the district uses the Taft pool.

Grishaber said that Taft’s previous principals have told him that more positive interaction between the officers and the students is needed and that some changes are planned. "They have all told me that the student culture needs to be looked at," he said. "There seems to be a disconnect between the security and the kids."

Grishaber said after the meeting that students should play a role in forming policies at the school. He said that students also should play a key role in changing the culture of the school and making sure that there are few problems.

The budget also includes funds for the $233 stipend which teachers are entitled to for sponsoring a school club. Last year the stipends apparently were not paid, Grishaber said.

Ideally the number of clubs at Taft should increase from the existing 67 to 150, which should improve the school’s attendance rate, which was 89.6 percent last school year, Grishaber said. "Kids will come to school if they have a club to go to," he said.

Funds the budget also would be used to hire two additional counselors, which would make the school’s counselor-to-student ratio e slightly lower than the city norm, Grishaber said.

One of Taft’s counselors will be assigned to the Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center and to all incoming freshmen who are graduates of the center, which is a gifted program. Grishaber said that he hopes the continuity of the same counselor for academic center students will encourage them to stay at Taft for high school, as about 100 of the 125 center graduates typically choose another high school.

The budget also includes $3,000 for a renewal of membership in the Advancement Via Individual Determination Program, which provides academic support services for students. While the average ACT score at Taft has increased from 18.7 to 19.2, students in the AVID program averaged 21.2, Grishaber said.

It also was reported at the meeting that Taft will be hold a "new parent academy" on Thursday evening, Sept. 11, for parents of academic center students and freshmen. Parents will meet in groups with each of their child’s teachers.

Grishaber and that in the first week of school he and each of the four assistant principals will follow a sample student schedule for a day so that the administration can better see how the school functions from the students’ perspective.

Taft also will hold a town hall meeting on the school’s dress code at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 11. The school is considering whether the uniform requirement in the dress code should be eliminated.