Influx of Ukrainian refugees at Taft High School, the school’s advanced level curriculum and class sizes among issues discussed at Taft LSC meeting
by BRIAN NADIG
The Taft High School Local School Council at its Sept. 13 meeting discussed the school’s influx of Ukrainian refugees, its advanced level curriculum, the possible need for more shuttles between the two campuses and class sizes.
Taft principal Mark Grishaber reported that at least 60 Ukrainian refugees enrolled at the school and that the families of the students got to know each other at the first meeting of the Taft Ukrainian Club.
“It was really great. (They) made connections,” Grishaber said. He added that the school is hiring an assistant who speaks Ukrainian and will serve as an interpreter as needed.
Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homeland since Russia invaded Ukraine this year.
In addition, about a dozen migrants transported to Chicago from Texas have been enrolled at Taft since the LSC meeting.
At the meeting, it was reported that 53 percent of the school’s 4,329 students are taking honors, Advanced Placement or international baccalaureate courses. In some instances students can earn college course credit for those classes.
“More than half of our kids are taking advanced classes … amazing,” Grishaber said. “I say this over and over again, but our kids are eating their educational vegetables.”
Taft IB coordinator Irene Kondos said that IB diploma courses are “not just for high-achieving students” and that classes are available to students who are not formally enrolled in the program, whose successful completion can help students get into some of the top universities in the country.
Currently 500 juniors take IB Language and Literature, and in 2 years it will be a requirement for all juniors, Grishaber said. “It’s college level, but our kids can succeed,” he said.
Also at the meeting, concerns were raised about the shuttle bus service which runs between the freshman campus at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave.and the varsity campus at 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. The shuttle is intended primarily to transport athletes between the campuses for practices, but some seats on the shuttle may be available for after-school clubs.
LSC parent member Maggie Baran said that students have to “fight for space” on the bus. Taft has 72 sports teams, with most practices at the varsity campuses.
Grishaber said that the school will monitor the situation and that funding may be needed for expand the shuttle service.
Also at the meeting, the council approved a resolution calling for budgetary decisions to be made with the goal of having manageable class sizes.
Three members abstained, and Grishaber voted “no” because he said the administration already pays close attention to the issue. He said that one of the challenges is that Taft received a one-percent increase in its budget from last year but teacher salaries are up 3 percent.
Under the terms of the Chicago Public Schools’ contract with the Chicago Teachers Union, schools are supposed to generally strive to have a recommended limit of 28 students in a core academic class, but a few extra students are allowed before there is an “automatic trigger” of an “investigation.”
Sometimes a school receives extra teacher allocations after a committee looks into the matter, Grishaber said.
LSC teacher representative Scott Plencner said that it becomes difficult for teachers to provide “individualized attention” when class sizes are “in the 30s.” It was reported at the meeting that 16 of the 1,087 classes at Taft are considered oversized.
“Many of our classes are considered oversized classrooms, and we want to provide students with personalized support,” stated a report from the school’s Professional Personnel Leadership Committee.
Taft is planning to hold its first “Food Truck Friday” on Sept. 30.