Taft expected to be less crowded with new campus
by BRIAN NADIG
Taft High School is operating at 143 percent of its ideal capacity, but that figure is expected to range from 99 to 111 percent in the coming years due to the opening of a new Taft freshman campus next fall.
"The most we’ll ever be is 111 percent. I can deal with 111 percent," Taft principal Mark Grishaber said at the Nov. 6 meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council.
Taft is considered the most overcrowded school in the city, but in September it will be the recipient of a new three-story freshman academy at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave. Even with the additional 1,200 seats at the campus, Taft is expected to be operating at or slightly above capacity next year.
Grishaber has said that Chicago Public Schools bases "ideal capacity" on each teacher getting his or her own classroom for an entire school day even though the teachers don’t have classes every period. He said that Taft, whose ideal capacity is 2,400 students, has managed to handle 3,434 students by primarily making sure each classroom is used for instruction all day because teachers share classrooms.
Enrollment projections show that Taft is anticipated to have about 1,180 students at its freshman campus and between 2,370 and 2,820 students at its varsity campus at 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. through 2023, when Taft’s enrollment is expected to peak with a total of 4,000 students between the two campuses.
LSC student representative Liam O’Shea said that student reaction to the freshman campus has been positive. "All students are super excited about the news of the new school being built," he said.
Taft administrators only recently began to review the interior design plans for the new school. "The school is off the hook. It’s beautiful," Grishaber said.
Taft assistant principal Eric Flores said that the Taft is working with the school system on transportation plans for the new campus and that every option is "on the table."
Some LSC members said that a shuttle bus between the two campuses would be needed to accommodate freshmen that have varsity sports practice at the other campus.
A Norwood Park resident told the LSC that his daughter had planned to walk to Taft during her freshman year but that that will no longer be an option because the new campus is too far from their home.
It also was reported that for the fourth year in a row Taft has been designated a Level 1 performing school.
Grishaber said after the meeting that Taft was rated on the "high end" of Level 1 and that he hopes next year that the school can earn a Level 1+ rating, which is the highest designation. "We’re really close," he said.
The school scored 3.8 points, with 4.0 being the minimum score for a Level 1+ school. Grishaber said that he expects Taft to make gains in college enrollment and freshmen on-track performance, raising the school’s overall score.
It also was announced that Taft’s reading and writing scores in terms of annual growth are exceeding the overall scores at several selective enrollment schools. About 75 percent of Taft’s tenth grader students met or exceeded their expected growth from ninth grade.
Also at the meeting, a resident complained about occasional student fights in the alley behind his house on Nagle Avenue.
Grishaber said that he has asked for the police to post a squad car in the alley and that the CTA will start picking up students on Bryn Mawr Avenue in front of Taft in addition to buses which normally pick up students on Natoma Avenue along the west side of the school.
Many students walk to the My Mart Citgo, 5726 N. Nagle Ave., where disturbances have been reported in the past. The buses on Bryn Mawr are designed to encourage students to board a bus earlier and to stay away from the alley and the gas station.
Not all of the teenagers who congregate at the gas station are Taft students, and only a small number of Taft students are causing problems, Grishaber said.
"I have 3,434 kids. 3,400 kids are great," he said. "Don’t judge us by those 34 kids."
The LSC meeting began with the presentation of a recently found class ring to 1977 Taft graduate Mike Winfrey, who lost the ring during gym class. Resident Joe McFeely found the ring while scanning the school grounds with a metal detector.
In response to a question from a Taft student reporter, Winfrey promptly presented the ring to his wife, Gail Mieling, also a Taft graduate. A picture from the ceremony is on Page 7.
Also, the council may call a special meeting to vote on a $12,000 funding request to send the marching band to New Orleans to perform at the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. Band members also are conducting numerous fund-raisers to help pay for the trip.
Grishaber said that such a trip would provide band members with a life-long memory and trips like this should be part of the educational process.