Taft supporters plan to be more vocal


Supporters of Taft High School plan to be more vocal in publicizing the school’s need for an addition and improved sports facilities, while at the same time they want to help erase misconceptions about the school.

“We need to start being a little bit of a squeaky wheel,” Taft High School Local School Council parent member Joe McFeely said at the council’s Oct. 14 meeting. McFeely is chairman of the council’s Facilities and Athletics Subcommittee.

Enrollment at Taft is 3,234, more than double the enrollment of 15 years ago. “Our numbers don’t seem to be going down, and I don’t expect them to go down any time soon,” LSC chairwoman Lisa Schwieger said.

The popularity of the school among local families should increase due to a capital improvement project that brought new windows, renovated science labs and other building improvements to the 75-year-old school, Schwieger said. The improvements and the school’s curriculum will be on display during what Schwieger described as a first-of-a-kind open house for Taft that the school will hold from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1.

More classroom space, an artificial sports field, a sports fieldhouse and a golf cart to transport equipment for sports events are among the items which parents should be advocating for at capital budget hearings and as part of a letter-writing campaign to school system officials, McFeely said. “It’s a lot of kids in a little space,” he said of the overcrowded conditions.

The facilities subcommittee is considering the possibility of having a portion of the $17 million which was earmarked for the recent capital improvement project at Taft allocated to building expansion or new athletics facilities. The project was completed several months ahead of time and came in about $5 million under budget due to savings in labor costs, according to school officials.

The school has asked Alderman Mary O’Connor (41st) to help lobby for the $5 million in savings to be spent on Taft.

Council members also discussed how some residents still view Taft as the same school it was in the 1990s, when at times less than 20 percent of the school’s enrollment consisted of local residents. Today more than 80 percent of the school’s students live within its attendance area.

Taft LSC student member Matthew Mach said that he sometimes hears from the youth football players he coaches that “Taft is a really bad school” and that their perception of the school comes from a sibling who “went to Taft 15 years ago.”

McFeely said that the issues surrounding Taft’s reputation are being raised with representatives of Northwest Side elementary schools as part of a new organization which Chicago Public Schools Network 1 administrators have established. The network oversees Northwest Side grade schools and high schools.

Also at the meeting, Taft principal Mark Grishaber reported that all juniors will be taking the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, which is designed as a practice college entrance exam. Last year only the school’s top 50 juniors took the exam, which is used by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to award scholarships to students with the highest scores.

Grishaber said that the PSAT results will give the school important data about where the students stand academically and what the school’s curriculum should focus on.

Some LSC members expressed concern about garbage not being removed from classrooms due to cutbacks in custodial services in the school system, and the LSC approved the purchase of 215 laptop computers for faculty members for $173,000.

It also was reported that Taft’s student-based budget, which covers most of the school’s salaries, increased by $230,000 because enrollment on the 20th day of classes was higher than projected.

Grishaber said that he is seeking to increase income from vending machines from $7,000 last year to about $25,000 this school year and that he is planning to create a student parking area which requires users to purchase a parking pass. He said that the school may lease parking spaces to a car-sharing club.

Taft also has been receiving $1,100 in rental income on Sundays from a soccer organization which is using the school. Grishaber said that rental agreements are written so that the school can end the relationship in the event that a group causes a problem.

Schwieger reported that LSC parent member Sherry Riojas-Drury is planning to resign from the LSC. Information on the replacement process will be posted online at www.tafths.org.

The next LSC meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 18.