Taft praised for its transformation in recent years; $3.5 million sports facility planned
by BRIAN NADIG
The days when local families avoided sending their children to Taft High School because of its poor reputation are long gone, according to resident Joe Jarad.
"It starts at the top, (and) you transformed this building. You transformed this reputation," Jarad said of Taft principal Mark Grishaber at the June 12 meeting of the Taft School Local School Council.
At one time Taft was not an option for his children because of the school’s less-than-stellar reputation, Jarad said.
"If you went to Taft, you didn’t talk about it when my kids were younger," he said.
However, nowadays students proudly wear their Taft logo clothing when they walk around the neighborhood, Jarad said. He added that the school’s International Baccalaureate diploma program was a great fit for his daughter, who graduated from Taft in June.
In the mid-1990s about 80 percent of the school’s enrollment consisted of students who lived outside of the school’s attendance area. Taft’s enrollment has more than doubled since then and more than 80 percent of the students are now from the area.
Grishaber said that the staff and students deserve much of the credit for the school’s success and that the recent graduation ceremony was emotional for him given that "this was the class that came in with me." Grishaber became Taft’s principal in 2014, and earlier this year the LSC awarded him a second 4-year contract.
The meeting also included an update on plans to install a multi-purpose sports turf with 1,200 spectator stands, lights and a drinking fountain. The turf will be designed to accommodate football, soccer and lacrosse, and the school plans to lease the field to outside organizations when the school is not using it.
Grishaber told the LSC that the prospect of "Friday night lights at Taft" couldn’t be ruled out as a result of the project, which is tentatively scheduled to be completed this fall. He said that he hopes the area’s grade-school teams will play their championship games on the new field.
The Chicago Public Schools will be paying for the artificial turf, while the Chicago Park District is funding the construction of four new tennis courts at Taft.
The park district is building the tennis courts to make up for the courts which are being removed at Norwood Park, 5801 N. Natoma Ave., to allow for the park’s new roller hockey rink, Grishaber said. Taft’s gym classes will be allowed to use the outdoor rink.
Taft had been in negotiations with an Irish football league to build a new field at the school, but a final agreement was not reached. The league reportedly is interested in leasing the field which CPS will be building at Taft.
Taft also will have access to a multiple-purpose athletic field with spectator stands which the park district is building just to the north of the planned Taft freshman campus at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave. If there are no construction delays, it is possible that Taft could play Saint Patrick High School in football there this year, Grishaber said. Saint Patrick is an investor in the construction of the field.
The freshman campus is designed to relieve overcrowding at Taft, but its construction will not be completed until the start of the 2019-20 school year.
Grishaber said that having 35 students in a class and assigning teachers six classes instead of the usual five is not sustainable long-term and that the school "is holding its breath" until the academy opens.
The school is looking into ways to free up some classroom space in 2018-19, including allowing seniors to take one less class if as a junior they completed 20 hours of an online SAT preparation program. Seventeen juniors finished 20 hours of the Kahn Academy program.
Data has shown that those who complete at least 20 hours of the program experience an improved SAT score, according to Taft administrators.
Meanwhile, the council approved about $170,000 in computer-related purchases and bathroom renovations. It includes the purchase of a portable Chrome tablet cart, which allows the school to bring a computer lab to any classroom, Grishaber said.
Those funds would be returned to the school system if they were not spent by the end of the school year. Taft has only a few dollars remaining from its student-based budget, which is based on an allocation of $5,300 per student, Grishaber said.
The June 12 meeting was the last for these retiring LSC members: George Wilson, Nick Savich, Lenin Plazas, Barbara Lynch and Ann Marie Gore. In addition, parent member Anita Bernacchi will become a community representative in July.