Eight student “houses” planned for new Taft Freshman Academy
by BRIAN NADIG
Students at the new Taft High School Freshman Academy at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave. will be divided into eight ‘houses,” each of which will have their own group of teachers.
“We’re going to take a big school and shrink it,” school scheduler Marianne Villasenor said at the March 5 meeting of the Taft Local School Council. Villasenor also is a faculty representative on the council.
The academy is expected to have about 1,200 students when it opens this September. Two of the eight houses will be for students in the Taft Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center, a gifted program, according to Taft resident principal Dan Kuzma. The academic center will be relocating from the varsity campus at 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. to the new building on Oak Park.
Villasenor said that having students and a set of teachers grouped together in each house will allow for better collaboration among staff members and for more focused intervention when addressing the academic, social or emotional needs of individual students.
“There’s six of us who see Johnny everyday, (and) we can help and guide him through,” Villasenor said.
Each freshman house will have a mix of honors, college prep and diverse learner students, and while students will remain within their house for the core classes, they will be intermixed with students from other houses for electives and lunch, Kuzma said.
In addition, none of the houses will consist predominantly of students from the same feeder elementary school, Taft principal Mark Grishaber said. “(For example) there will not be an Edgebrook or Garvy house,” he said.
Last year the Chicago Public Schools created a preference zone for eighth graders living in the Canty, Dever and Bridge attendance areas, allowing them to attend Taft’s general program based on a space availability basis.
Grishaber said that about 900 students applied to enter Taft through the preference zone but that only 240 of them live within the zone’s boundaries. He said that an apparent glitch in the application process allowed for the mistake but that only those who live in the preference zone will be admitted.
Grishaber added that the error revealed how Taft’s reputation is strong throughout Chicago given that some of applicants live near the southeast corner of the city.
Taft is hoping to receive the keys to the academy by early August when construction is completed, Grishaber said. He said that he is seeking budget information from the school system regarding the available funds for art and science lab supplies, security personnel and other items at the academy.
Next to the academy will be a new outdoor sports complex with bleachers for 2,500 spectators. The Chicago Park District will be managing the facility, which was funded in part by Saint Patrick High School.
Grishaber said that he recently with a park district official and that he expects Taft will be on “equal footing” with the parochial high school in terms of access to the new sports facility. In addition, Taft is receiving a new sports field at its varsity campus on Bryn Mawr.
The next LSC meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 2.