Taft HS principal temporarily returns despite health issue
by BRIAN NADIG
The Feb. 7 meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council marked the temporary return of principal Mark Grishaber from medical leave.
LSC student representative Jack Stevens said that the level of respect that students have for "Mr. G" made news of his diagnosis of leukemia difficult to handle. "The students really care about what he’s doing (for the school), and I think that says a lot about him," Stevens said.
Outside Grishaber’s office is a 15-foot "G" made of "get well" notes from students.
Taft’s assistant principals have done an outstanding job running the school, making it easier for students to cope with Grishaber’s absence, Stevens said.
Grishaber plans to return to his job in March, but he was at the LSC meeting to give updates on recent budget cuts and the Taft freshman campus proposal. He said that he is expected to make a full recovery.
Taft must cut about $395,000 from its budget as part of a plan by the Chicago Public Schools to freeze $46 million in spending. No school is being asked to cut more than 5 percent of its budget.
School system officials have said that the freeze is being imposed in response to Governor Bruce Rauner’s $215 million cut funding code Chicago schools. Rauner has said that the funding reduction is part of a stopgap budget deal that never passed.
"Right now my number one priority is to save teacher jobs and staff," Grishaber said. Cutbacks are being made in funding for teacher overtime, supplies, staff development and capital projects, including planned renovations to bathrooms, he said.
"Over the past 2 1/2 years CPS has cut $1.5 million from Taft’s budget and not one teacher or staff member has lost their job," Grishaber wrote in a Feb. 7 memo to the school’s staff. "When I’m balancing our budget there are certain areas that are simply nonnegotiable. The elimination of a teacher or staff positions is what I consider the very last option."
Also at the meeting, Grishaber asked residents to advocate on behalf of a proposal to build a freshman campus for Taft on former state-owned land at Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue.
The building would be able to accommodate about 1,300 students, and several schools in the Dunning area would be added to Taft’s elementary school feeder list. Some opponents to the plan have called for a 4-year high school that would serve the Dunning neighborhood.
Grishaber said that it would be difficult for a new 4-year school to offer the Advanced Placement courses and extracurricular activities that are available at Taft, which has an enrollment of 3,297. "I have 60 sports," he said. "I have three levels of football. I have a marching band."
Grishaber said that he plans to meet with the local school councils in the Dunning area to explain why it would be in their students’ "best interests" to enroll at an established school like Taft instead of a new school. Plans call for graduates of Bridge, Canty, Dever and Smyser schools to have the option of enrolling at Taft or at Steinmetz High School, which is the current neighborhood high school for most of the students.
It also was reported that planned games in Cincinnati for the boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball teams where canceled in January due to an ice storm. The games will not be rescheduled, but plans are being made for the girls’ team to travel to Normal to watch the state basketball championship game and for the boys’ team to travel to Peoria to watch the boys’ championship game.
LSC Athletics Committee chairman Joe McFeely said that the trips will be a good learning experience for the players. "They’re going to see they’re kids just like us," McFeely said. "They’re not better than us, and we can be better than anybody."
LSC teacher representative Barbara Lynch said at the meeting that some teachers want more say in the selection process for placing students in AP and honors classes.
It also was reported that a recent online threat against the school was determined to be a hoax and that the individual who made the threat has been identified. Lynch asked parents to make sure that they are registered to receive electronic updates from the school on security and other matters.
The council also announced that Grishaber had received an "excellent" rating in his annual performance evaluation, which council members recently completed.
The next council meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 14.