Taft LSC discusses fire alarm replacement, school’s improved image


Members of the Taft High School Local School Council meeting discussed efforts to replace the school’s fire alarm system and an improving image of the school among younger families in the area at its Oct. 20 meeting.

The school’s fire alarm system has been broken for seven weeks, and a worker for a company hired by the Chicago Public Schools is in the building daily working on replacing the system, Taft assistant principal Eric Flores said.

The Chicago Public Schools has assigned a team of 10 to15 "fire guards" who patrol the building and radio any fire threats to the school’s office, Flores said. The city’s "911" emergency center is contacted, an announcement is made over the school’s intercom system to evacuate the building, and an alarm is sounded through the intercom, he said.

"The (guards) will run around the building and make sure everybody evacuates," Flores said. He said that the guards are in the building at all times that students are present.

LSC chairwoman Lisa Schwieger said that the school should run a fire drill to make sure that the teachers understand the temporary alarm procedures that are in place.

Alderman Anthony Napolitano, who attended the meeting, that he would make inquiries into the delays in replacing the alarm system.

Also at the meeting, student LSC representative Jack Stevens reported that an increasing number of eighth graders are foregoing the gifted school selection process because of improvements at Taft. "I know a lot of students who aren’t taking the (selective enrollment entrance) test," Stevens said. "They’re going to the Taft open house, and then they’re signing up."

Taft principal Mark Grishaber said that the school also has seen an increase in the number of graduates of the school’s Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center enroll at Taft for high school. Grishaber said that about 40 of the center’s 110 graduates last spring enrolled at Taft and that he hopes the school keeps about 70 of the graduates next year.

The council’s decision to give $1,000 to each of the athletics programs at Taft’s feeder elementary schools also should lead to more neighborhood children enrolling at Taft, Grishaber said. "We’re getting a lot of good will from the community," he said.

Taft also will showcase its facilities to more local children now that feeder schools will play their Saturday games at Taft, Grishaber said. "Any time I get kids in this building it’s a good thing because it’s a cool place," he said.

Taft is a neighborhood school that must enroll students who live in its attendance area that apply. It also accepts students from outside the attendance area for the academic center and its International Baccalaureate Diploma and U.S. Naval ROTC programs.

It also was reported that the Taft girls’ varsity golf team placed second in the city tournament, which was won by a combined team from two Chicago selective enrollment schools, Payton and Jones. The Illinois High School Association allows schools to compete together as long as they submit a "co-op" application and meet certain qualifications.

Grishaber said that the co-op rules were intended primarily for smaller, rural schools and that they should not apply in golf because students can compete individually in golf tournaments even if their school lacks the minimum seven golfers to form a team. "My kids deserve that championship," Grishaber said, adding that he plans to express his concerns to the IHSA.

It also was reported that the school system is working on preliminary plans for new athletics fields at Taft. Grishaber said that the plans would used as a guideline so that the school knows the cost of the long-term project and that it likely would be built in three phases because it would be difficult to raise all of the funds at once.

Napolitano said that it is "kind of demoralizing" that Taft athletes cannot compete on a field with the school’s emblem. He said that he has told Mayor Rahm Emanuel that his top priorities for schools in the 41st Ward are improved sports facilities at Taft and additions to Ebinger School and Dirksen School.

It also was reported that Taft lost about $427,000 in funding because its enrollment is recorded as 3,220, less than the 3,300 projected by the school system earlier in the year. Grishaber said that he anticipated the lower enrollment and that the school’s budget was based on the assumption that the school could lose up to $500,000.

Grishaber said that he will seek to get some of the funds back as the school’s enrollment increases during the school year. "We keep getting one or two kids every day," he said. "Twenty-five kids means an extra teacher."

It also was announced that a new Taft app is available for free through the App Store or Google Play for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. It features school news, and it allows parents to report their child’s absence.

Taft will hold an open house for its academic center, which is a gifted program, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, and an open house for the high school will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. the same day. The open houses will feature information about the school’s curriculum and extracurricular activities.

The next council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17.