CPS expected to announce formal plans for Taft freshman campus on Oak Park Avenue -UPDATED
by BRIAN NADIG
The Chicago Public Schools will hold a community forum Tuesday night, Oct. 23, to gather input on a plan to create a ninth-grade proximity boundary for Taft High School that could allow for the enrollment of additional Dunning area children into Taft.
The forum will start at 6 p.m. at Wright College, 4300 N. Narragansett Ave.
Also at the meeting, school system officials are expected to make a formal announcement that the new Dunning school being constructed at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave. will be used as a freshman campus for the overcrowded Taft starting next September.
For months school system and city officials have been giving strong hints that the new school would be used for Taft instead of a stand-alone, 4-year high school for the Dunning area but said that a decision would not be finalized until this fall.
Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) has said that he wants Dunning children to have access to the new school building on Oak Park, whether it is a new 4-year high school or an extension of Taft.
Under the Taft freshman campus plan, families from the attendance areas of Bridge, Canty and Dever schools would have the option of choosing Taft over their current home high school, which is Steinmetz College Prep.
Those Bridge, Canty and Dever graduates who choose Taft would attend the Oak Park campus for their freshman year and then what is being called the “varsity campus” at 6530 W, Bryn Mawr Ave. for their sophomore, junior and senior years.
However, there is a chance that Taft would not be an option for Bridge, Canty and Dever families in the event that the high school were to fill up due to a surge of students from what the school system calls its “traditional” boundaries.
“Effective July 1, 2019, Taft High School will be comprised of a Taft Freshman Academy (4071 N. Oak Park Ave.) and the existing Taft High School main facility (6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.).
“If there is capacity for additional students to attend Taft after traditional attendance boundary applicants and rising ninth graders in Taft’s grade academic center program are enrolled, the proximity boundary will grant students a preference to attend over students who reside outside of the proposed proximity area,” the CPS’ proposal states.
The proximity area would consist of the attendance areas of Bridge, Canty and Dever and a portion of Smyser. Currently some Smyser students live within the attendance area for Schurz High School, while the others feed into Taft.
Dunning resident Jason Quaglia said that it is “ridiculous” that access to the new school building would be contingent on a space availability basis for Dunning families. He said that even with a new freshman campus, Taft would be operating at 100 percent of its capacity given that its current space utilization rate is about 140 percent, the highest in the city.
“We were afraid of this along,” Quaglia said.
Taft administrators have said that the freshman campus would give the school the overall capacity it needs to accommodate additional feeder students from the Dunning area.
The Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the proximity boundary plan at its meeting at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24.
The freshman campus, whose capacity would be 1,200, also would house Taft’s Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center, which requires admissions testing. Taft is expected to have up to about 1,000 freshmen and 200 academic center students next fall.
Taft administrators have said that they are looking into providing bus service for a fee from some communities to the new freshman campus. The bus service would be available in those neighborhoods farthest from the freshman campus and where public transportation options may not be convenient, such as Edgebrook and Sauganash.
Sposato has said that creating a new 4-year Dunning high school could require reducing the attendance boundaries for Taft and that it would be difficult to chose which grammar schools should be removed from Taft’s feeder list. Taft is a Level 1 performing high school.
Sposato also has said that Taft has comprehensive curriculum, sports and club programming and that it could take years for a new 4-year school to build that up.
Some Bridge, Canty and Dever graduates already attend Taft after applying and being accepted into its ROTC and international baccalaureate programs.