Taft LSC discusses enrollment, sports


The Taft High School Local School Council at its Nov. 18 meeting discussed the reported lack of plans by the school system to provide relief for the overcrowding at Taft, the implementation of a new student athletics fee and possible changes for the school’s football program.

A school system official recently met with the council’s Facilities Subcommittee and offered no solutions to the overcrowding, subcommittee chairman Joe McFeely said.

The official told the subcommittee that a new high school that would serve the Northwest Side has been considered for surplus state land on the Read-Dunning site near Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue but that there are no immediate plans to build the school, McFeely said. The new school reportedly would have to have a projected enrollment of 1,500 students before it could be built.

Some LSC members have recommended that Taft’s attendance area be reduced in an effort to halt the rising enrollment at the school, which has about 3,250 students.

However, school system officials would want Taft to drop its Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center and U.S. Naval Junior ROTC Program before boundary changes would be considered, Taft principal Mark Grishaber said. Those programs accept students from outside Taft’s attendance area.

Grishaber said that both programs are vital to Taft’s success and that they will remain at the school. "Those are the kids you don’t want to get rid of," he said.

Of the academic center’s 110 graduates last spring, 31 enrolled at Taft for high school, and the school hopes to increase that figure to 50 next year, Grishaber said. The center is a gifted program that requires admissions testing.

Taft’s main competition for the graduates of the center is Lane Tech High School, Grishaber said.

Grishaber said that he hopes to address Taft’s greatest space need by applying for grant that would pay for a new dome that would be used for gym classes, team practices and sports events. "That’s a game changer," he said. "We’re getting killed in P.E. If it rains outside, I have no place I can put them, and they usually run in circles."

It was reported at the LSC meeting that Taft had been operating at close to 150 percent of its capacity but that it is now at about 130 percent because some new classrooms were created by subdividing rooms.

The council also discussed a new online registration form for all students on winter sports teams that requires payment of a fee that varies by sport and costs up to $250. In the past, football players have been asked to pay an equipment fee which is used to recondition helmets.

McFeely said that a portion of the mandatory student fee which all students pay at the start of the school year is designated for athletics and that the council was never consulted about the new athletic team fees. "This discussion should have happened two months ago," he said.

Grishaber said that it was his understanding that the fee would be $50 and that most of that money would be used to pay for new uniforms, which in some instances players would keep. He said that he would clarify the fee schedule with the athletic director but that "no students will never not play because they can’t pay it."

Grishaber said that Taft athletes should not have to wear old, stained uniforms. "I am not going to send my kids out there if they are not looking good," he said.

It also was reported that Grishaber has asked Taft football coach Matt Walsh to reapply for the position. Walsh has been Taft’s varsity coach for 11 years, during which period the school has qualified for the state playoffs four times.

A parent who worked with Walsh to form a booster club 7 years ago told the LSC that Walsh was the only staff member to attend all of the meetings and that the coach has been a strong advocate for Taft and its students. A father of a former player said that Walsh was the main reason that his children chose to attend Taft and that Walsh played a critical role in helping his son find a college that was good for him to attend.

Grishaber said that Walsh is a very good coach, but he said that as principal he owes it to the students to make sure that there is not a candidate who will lead Taft to the first-ever state football championship for a Chicago public school. He said that Taft is losing good football players from the Northwest Side to private schools and that the school should be "a top 10 program" each year given the strong youth leagues in the area.

Walsh said later that he will reapply for the position. He called coaching and teaching at Taft his "dream job" and said that he hopes his daughter will attend Taft some day.

Also at the meeting, it was reported that security screenings of students and their bags are not being conducted on a regular basis. School administrators said that checking all students would result in long lines that would cause some students to miss three periods of classes and that metal detectors can give a false sense of security given the difficulty in monitoring all doors and windows.
"It’s not going to guarantee a weapon not getting in," Taft director of climate and culture Kat Hindmand said of metal detectors. Hindmand said that fights at Taft have not involved weapons and that the school is teaching students how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

A planned safety improvement calls for the installation of a new intercom and camera at the main entrance of the school, Hindmand said. The camera will allow the school to monitor visitors before they enter the building, she said.

It also was reported that the school plans to use its staff members to teach ACT college entrance test preparation classes, which will be offered before and after school, instead of hiring an outside company. "My experience is kids have more buy-in when it is their teachers," Grishaber said.

The average ACT score at Taft is 19.1, and the school hopes to reach 20 next year, Grishaber said. The average state score is 20.7.

Last year ACT classes were only offered to the top 50 juniors, but the school expects to accommodate several hundred students this year.

In an effort to increase food sales the school also is planning to upgrade the concessions stand that is located outside the main gymnasium. The council approved payment requests that will bring electrical improvements and a new hot dog cooker to the concessions stand.

The council is seeking to fill a parent vacancy on the council. The next LSC meeting will at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9.