Freshman academy for Taft HS appears ‘almost a done deal’
by BRIAN NADIG
The Taft High School Local School Council at its May 8 meeting received good news about the prospects of a new freshman campus to help relieve overcrowding at Taft.
"It’s almost a done deal that it’s going to be a freshman academy," Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) told the LSC. "I think it’s a big win for the Northwest Side."
Sposato said that the final decision will be made this fall on whether to designate the planned three-story building at Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue as either a freshman campus for Taft or a new stand-alone 4-year high school for the Dunning area.
Sposato estimated that there was a "90-percent" chance that the new $70 million school would be designated for Taft, but said that enrollment numbers on the Northwest Side will be reassessed one more time before an official announcement is made. Construction of the building is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2019.
Some critics of the Taft academy plan have said that it would draw students away from the underutilized Steinmetz Prep High School, while others have called for the Dunning neighborhood to have its own high school.
Sposato said that the biggest impact of a 1,200-seat Taft academy would likely be on the parochial high schools. He said that some parents are choosing private schools because Taft is too overcrowded but that a second Taft campus would help to address the issue.
The freshman campus also may house Taft’s Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center, which is a gifted program that requires admissions testing, Sposato said.
Under the plan, graduating eighth grade students at Canty, Bridge and Dever schools would have the option of choosing Taft or Steinmetz as their home high school for 4 years. In addition, Taft is the home high school for most Smyser School students, with others feeding into Schurz High School. Taft would become available for all Smyser graduates.
Sposato said that the new campus would serve Dunning families whether it is an extension of Taft or a new stand-alone high school.
Taft principal Mark Grishaber said that the school is looking into providing a bus service for students who live on either the far north or south ends of the school’s attendance area.
Edgebrook families have expressed concern about the extra traveling distance to the freshman campus at 4201 N. Oak Park Ave., while Dunning parents are worried about the commute to the main campus at 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. once their child becomes a sophomore, according to Grishaber.
It also was reported that Taft administrators have been discussing with city and Chicago Park District officials the possibility of a multi-purpose turf field and new tennis courts at the school.
"Our fingers are crossed," Grishaber said.
In 2016 there was a preliminary plan for a new outdoor sports facility at Taft, but the project was not funded.
Also at the meeting, Grishaber announced that changes to the junior curriculum are planned in an effort to increase SAT college entrance exam scores.
It also was reported that 57 percent of the school’s 3,339 students come from low-income families, generating $910 in Taft discretionary funds for each qualifying student.
The school’s racial makeup was reported as 47.3 percent white, 40.1 percent Hispanic, 7.3 percent Asian and 2.6 percent black, with smaller percentages for other categories. "We are the 10th most diverse school in CPS," Grishaber said.
The school is planning to dedicate a memorial honoring Taft graduates who were killed in military action during a ceremony at the end of the annual Norwood Park Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 28.
The next LSC meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 12.