Taft HS reputation grows on NW Side
by BRIAN NADIG
The recent opening of Taft High School’s freshman campus and its "Friday Night Lights" football game will only enhance the school’s reputation, according to Taft principal Mark Grishaber.
"Taft is the place to be," Grishaber said at the Sept. 10 meeting of the Taft Local School Council. "The buzz is out there … it’s a cool school."
The opening of the Taft Freshman Academy, 4071 N. Oak Park Ave., will allow the school to expand its curriculum and to improve its overall academic performance, Grishaber said. "Look out. Level 1-plus, here we come," he said in reference to the top rating given to Chicago schools.
"The kids are really loving (the freshman campus)," Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) told the LSC. "Your staff is awesome."
Taft’s overall enrollment between the freshman and varsity campuses is 3,630, about 200 more students than last year.
About 1,150 of the school’s students attend classes at the freshman campus, resulting in 30 percent fewer students at the varsity campus, 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. and providing long overdue "breathing room" in the hallways, Grishaber said. Taft had been considered the most overcrowded public school in the city, operating at about 146 percent of its ideal enrollment.
Grishaber said that he hopes to launch a new robotics program next year and that he will consider a variety of new academic treks, including medical, engineering or teaching. A 3-year high school program also may be considered given that many of Taft’s Seventh and Eighth Grade Center graduates enter ninth grade with a high number of high school credits, he said.
It also was reported that about 2,000 people attended the school’s first-ever home nighttime football game on its varsity campus on Sept. 6, defeating Brooks Prep High School 55-6.
"Everyone is talking about Taft’s (multi-purpose sports) field," LSC student representative Liam O’Shea said. "That was the talk of the neighborhood, and the students love it."
"I think it was great for our kids," Grishaber said of the game. He added that many students have said that the new field makes it "feel like I’m in a real high school."
Due to the high cost of the temporary lights, Taft’s remaining home football games will be played prior to sunset, Grishaber said. 1966 Taft graduate Leonard Winslow sponsored the lights for the Sept. 6 game.
Meanwhile, the council discussed traffic-related concerns involving the freshman campus during student drop-off and dismissal times. There have been reports of traffic backups, as there is only one driveway from Oak Park leading to and from the school.
Sposato said that traffic management aides are being assigned to the school and that a new asphalt walkway is being installed from the nearby Read-Dunning Stadium to the freshman campus in order to encourage more parents to use that lot for dropping off and picking up students. The Chicago Park District stadium, which is located near Oak Park and Bittersweet Place, has a 90-space parking lot.
Parents also can drop off students on Normandy Avenue, where it dead ends just to the north of the school, and a walkway also is being installed from the school to a CTA bus stop near Irving Park Road and Oak Park, according to assistant principal Ryan Glowacz.
The school has an approximately 60-space parking lot, which is not large enough to accommodate all staff members, and the installation of additional parking is being considered, Glowacz said.
It also was announced that additional shuttle bus pickups between the varsity and freshman campus have been added in the morning. Student access to the shuttle was determined through a lottery.
In other news, Park Community Church has signed a lease agreement for $65,000 to use Taft’s auditorium and about eight classrooms on Sundays for the next year. The church’s Edgebrook branch previously was located at 6155 W. Touhy Ave.
Also, the LSC plans to fill two parent vacancies on the council at its next meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, at the freshman campus. Interested parents should submit their application to the school prior to the meeting. For more information, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.