Taft LSC seeks overcrowding relief before proposed middle school opens; possible feeder school changes reported





by BRIAN NADIG

Members of the Taft High School Local School Council hope that the overcrowded conditions at the school can be addressed before the proposed opening of a freshman campus in several years.

Plans calls for Taft’s freshmen to be housed at a proposed middle school that would be built near Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue in the Read-Dunning development area, which includes surplus land that the state has given to the city.

“It’s a minimum 3 years out,” LSC Facilities Committee chairwoman Lisa Collyer said, referring to correspondence which she received from the school system. “We can’t wait that long. We need some relief now.”

Collyer said that lack of sufficient gym, pool and lunchroom space are among the many issues which require the school’s system’s immediate attention. “The gym is booked from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Track is running in the hallways for practice in this type of weather,”Collyer said after the council’s Dec. 20 meeting. “Seniors don’t get to eat until the eighth period. Why bother?”

Collyer said that the committee hopes to enlist the help of Northwest Side aldermen whose wards cover part of Taft’s attendance boundaries in an effort to work with the school system on a solution. She said that several of Taft’s feeder elementary schools have received additions to address overcrowding on their campuses.

Under the proposal for a freshman campus, Taft’s overall capacity would increase, with up to 1,200 students at the middle school and 2,700 sophomores, juniors and seniors at the main campus at 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.

As of mid-November, Taft’s enrollment was 3,286 students, which is more than double from the late 1990s. “We are the most overcrowded school (in the city),” Collyer said.

If plans for the middle school proceed, Taft could experience an expansion of its attendance boundaries to include several grammar schools near the Dunning site.

Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) told the LSC that the school system is looking at designating Taft as the neighborhood high school for those living in the attendance areas of Bridge, Canty and Dever. Most of the students from those three schools now feed into Steinmetz High School.

Taft’s attendance boundaries also would be expanded to include all of Smyser’s attendance area, according to Collyer. About half of Smyser’s students already feed into Taft.

In a letter to the committee, Jimm Dispensa, who analyzes demographic data for the Chicago Public Schools, indicated that feedback from the affected school communities would be solicited before boundary changes are  made, Collyer said. The LSC is hoping to meet with Dispensa in early 2017, she said.

The middle school would be designed to accommodate up to 900 freshmen and 300 students in the Taft Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center, which requires admissions testing. The center started at Taft almost 20 years ago and attracts students from throughout the city.

Also under the proposal, enrollment to the academic center would be limited to those students who live within Taft’s attendance boundaries, and a similar restriction also is being considered for high school, Collyer said. Currently who live outside of Taft’s attendance boundaries can apply for admittance though the U.S. Naval Junior ROTC Program or the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program.

Collyer said that the enrollment pressure on Taft is unlikely to decline anytime soon given the school’s recent academic and athletic successes and that a new freshman campus for Taft would be another strong selling point to families when choosing a high school. “Everybody is going to want to go to the new, shiny school,” she said.

A separate campus for freshmen is not a new concept for Taft, as the school’s freshmen were housed on the campus of Norwood Park School about 50 years ago.

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