No guarantee for Dunning students to enroll at Taft
by BRIAN NADIG
Over the objections of Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th), the Chicago Board of Education at its Oct. 24 meeting approved a plan for a Taft High School freshman academy that will not guarantee enrollment into Taft for families living in the Dunning neighborhood where the ninth grade campus is being built.
"I am very dismayed and disheartened by the position CPS is taking on this which is totally against what was agreed upon during negotiations for the new high school (at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave.). I will continue to fight for the guaranteed inclusion of our students," Sposato said in his Oct. 25 newsletter.
Under the Taft freshman campus plan, families from the attendance areas of Bridge, Canty and Dever schools and the southern portion of Smyser’s attendance area would be given a preference for enrolling in the general education program at Taft if it has "sufficient capacity" to admit additional students after students who live within Taft’s traditional attendance boundaries are enrolled.
The affected Dunning area would be placed in what the Chicago Public Schools calls a "proximity boundary" for Taft.
The home high school for the attendance areas of Bridge, Canty and Dever will remain Steinmetz College Prep, while a portion of Smyser’s attendance will continue to feed into Schurz High School. Currently Taft is the home high school for most of Smyser’s attendance area, and that will not change.
At an Oct. 23 community forum, CPS director of demographics James Dispensa said that all of the Dunning students who want to enroll into Taft for ninth grade should be accepted based on high school enrollment data from recent years.
Up to about 60 percent of the 350 public school eighth graders who live in the new preference area are expected to enroll at Taft, Dispensa said. In recent years at least 60 percent of public school students living in Taft’s attendance area have enrolled at Taft, compared to a citywide average of 25 percent for neighborhood high schools, he said.
At the forum, several parents said that CPS was underestimating its figures and noted that CPS’ projections do not take into account private school students.
Several parents also said that anything short of a guarantee for their children being admitted to Taft would be unacceptable. "You’re messing with our children’s lives (and) our property values," one resident said.
"If the numbers are fine, then the language should be adjusted," a parent said in response to Dispensa’s analysis.
"A ‘preference area’ doesn’t work for me," another parent said.
The freshman campus, whose ideal capacity CPS says 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 about 1,000 freshmen and 200 academic center students next fall, and Dispensa said that the building could house more than 1,200 students with some creative scheduling that principals at some schools already do.
Taft’s current freshman class totals 899, including 142 out-of-area students, some of who enrolled through Taft’s ROTC and international baccalaureate programs or graduated from the academic center. Thirty percent of those out-of-area freshmen live in the newly created proximity area, according to CPS.
Starting next fall, only sophomores, juniors and seniors would attend classes at Taft’s main campus at 6530 W, Bryn Mawr Ave.
Taft’s enrollment this fall is 3,434 students, and the school’s space utilization rate is 141 percent, the highest in the city.
At the forum, a Hitch School parent said that she was planning to have her child walk to high school all 4 years but that the Oak Park campus would be too far.
Some residents have been advocating for the new building on Oak Park to be used as a new 4-year high school for the Dunning community.
Sposato has said that creating a new Dunning high school would require reducing the attendance boundaries for Taft and that it would be difficult to choose which grammar schools to remove from Taft’s feeder list. Taft is a Level 1 performing high school.
"They’re not going to build one high school for three feeder schools," Sposato said at the forum.
Sposato has said that Taft has comprehensive curriculum, sports and club programming and that it could take years for a new 4-year school to match that.
Also at the meeting, it was reported that school system’s online registration system will soon be changed so that those families in the preference zone can apply to Taft’s general education program.
Dispensa said that families wanting Taft should put Taft as their first choice for general education and that it would not affect their chances for getting into a gifted school if they are also applying for one of those programs.