Taft High School Local School Council Feb. 16 meeting




by BRIAN NADIG

The Taft High School Local School Council at its Feb. 16 meeting received news that academic performance at the school continues to improve and that the school lost no teachers due to school system budget cutbacks.

Taft principal Mark Grishaber reported that the school’s freshman on-track rate is 94 percent, compared to 82.9 percent last year and an average of 68 percent for Chicago public high schools. He said that the rate reflects the percentage of freshmen who are passing all of their core academic classes and that it is an indicator that the school’s graduation rate will increase.

The school holds “raise the grade” workshops on some Saturdays for freshmen who are seeking extra work in an effort to increase a grade, Grishaber said. Next year the school plans to extend the workshops to sophomores.

Grishaber said that the school’s common-core curriculum places a strong emphasis on analytical thinking, such as comparing and contrasting theories or works of literature, and that counselors are making an effort to place students in more challenging classes. “Colleges are no longer asking for your GPA, but why you didn’t take that tougher class when you could have,” he said.

One of the Taft’s goals is to increase the number of graduates who go to a 4-year college or university instead of to a 2-year school because studies show that the majority of junior college students do not go on to receive a bachelor’s degree from a 4-year school, Grishaber said after the meeting.

Last spring 97 percent of Taft’s seniors were accepted to a college or university, and about 75 percent of them enrolled, with 56 percent of them choosing a 4-year school, Grishaber said. The previous year 48 percent of the graduates went to a 4-year school, he said.

LSC student representative Jack Stevens said that the school has implemented several programs to help students with their studies and that Taft students are “more college-ready, and that is what every parent wants.”

Stevens said that every 5 weeks students receive a “BAG Report” that updates them on their behavior, attendance and grades and that the reports help prevent students from falling behind and encourage them to seek tutoring or other assistance when needed. The report, which must be signed by a parent, includes the number of times the student has been tardy, student conduct code infractions and grade point average for the semester.

It also was reported that 85 percent of the students in the Taft Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center passed their algebra exit exam compared to 56 percent the previous year. The school’s 5-year passing average is 66 percent, and the students who pass do not have to take algebra in high school.

Also at the meeting, it was announced that Taft lost about $458,000 in funding as part of a savings plan by the Chicago Public Schools after its contract offer was rejected by the Chicago Teachers Union. Taft was expected to lose about $800,000, but an infusion of state and federal funds allowed the school system to scale back its planned cuts.

“The good news is not one position was let go,” Grishaber said. “The staff is happy.”

However, several improvement projects, including a new theater in the library and updates to locker rooms, are on hold, Grishaber said. “It kind of got us liquidated a little bit,” he said.

Taft was able to survive the budget cuts by dipping into its discretionary funds and by planning for possible cutbacks when the school’s 2016-17 budget was created, Grishaber said.

Several sports issues also were discussed at the LSC meeting. It was reported that every winter team at Taft won its conference championship. “It’s going to be amazing when we can say that about city championships,” Grishaber said.

The school also plans to expand its annual eighth grade boys’ basketball tournament, which this year attracted teams from eight of Taft’s feeder schools. LSC parent member Joe McFeely said that coaches from several of the participating teams plan to recruit more schools for 2017 and that an open house for prospective students may be held in conjunction with next year’s tourney.

Taft administrators recently met with Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Forrest Claypool and sports administration director Randy Ernst to discuss the possibility of creating a new athletic field at the school.

Grishaber said that Claypool praised Taft for giving $1,000 to each of its feeder schools to help pay for coaching stipends, which the school system cut for elementary schools.

Grishaber said that he plans to write a letter to the Illinois High School Association expressing concern about city schools being allowed to form cooperative teams. State rules allow two schools to form a single team when neither school has enough players to form its own team.

Last fall Taft’s girls’ varsity golf team lost the city championship to a combined team from two selective enrollment schools, Payton and Jones. Grishaber said at the time that 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 number of players to form a team.

Taft should not have to play “all star” teams that can be formed when schools combine players, Grishaber said. “CPS doesn’t have enough people in it to monitor it,” he said.

The school is holding a benefit concert featuring Dennis Tufano, who was the original singer on several hits by the rock group the Buckinghams. It will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 12, in the school auditorium, and tickets can be obtained by calling 800-838-3006. Proceeds from the event will to the Taft Arts and Music Department.

LSC chairwoman Lisa Schwieger announced that the next council meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, and that a forum for LSC candidates will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 29, at the school, 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.

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