Mayor Emanuel tours school and park construction sites in the 38th, 41st and 45th Wards
by BRIAN NADIG
During a tour of the Northwest Side on May 20, Mayor Rahm Emanuel met with aldermen and other officials at construction sites celebrating plans for an anticipated freshman campus for Taft High School, an annex for Prussing School and a new playground at Wildwood Park.
The first stop was at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave., where a $70 million high school and a nearby $3.5 million Chicago Park District outdoor sports facility will be built. Those joining Emanuel for the groundbreaking included Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th), Chicago Park District chief operating officer Pat Levar Jr., Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Dr. Janice Jackson and Taft principal Mark Girshaber.
The three-story school, which will open in the fall of 2019, is expected to be used as a freshman campus for Taft, which is considered the city’s most overcrowded high school. The Taft Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center, which is a gifted program that requires admissions testing, also may be housed at the Oak Park Avenue campus.
City and school officials have said that a final decision on whether to use the new building as a stand-alone, 4-year high school for the Dunning area, or as an extension of Taft will be made this fall after a final review of area enrollment numbers area made. However, a recently issued construction permit for the site states that the school will be for seventh, eighth and ninth grades.
Sposato has said that under either scenario, the new school will serve families living in the attendance areas of Bridge, Dever, Canty and Bridge schools, which currently feed into Steinmetz College Prep High School. Under the Taft plan, graduates of those schools would be guaranteed enrollment for 4 years at either Taft or Steinmetz. Also, all of Smyser School’s graduates will be able to attend Taft, as a portion of Smyser’s attendance area feeds into Schurz High School, according to Sposato.
Emanuel said that new building would complement Taft, which he described as a “jewel on the Northwest Side.” He added that schools like Taft are the reason the days in which a U.S. Secretary of Education labeled Chicago schools “the worst in the nation” are long gone, citing large gains in eighth-grade math scores and fourth-grade reading scores in the city.
Just to the north of the new high school will be a multi-purpose athletic field with spectator stands. The project is being funded through a mix of state and private funds, and one of its investors is Saint Patrick High School, which plans to pay its home football games there.
At Wildwood Park, 6950 N. Hiawatha Ave., Emanuel announced that a new playground is scheduled to open there by August. He recalled how his family was attracted to its Ravenswood home because it is “four houses down from a pocket park” and said that parks are often the place where children form lifetime friendships.
Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) thanked the Wildwood Park Advisory Council for spearheading the project and working on the playground’s design with the park district.
“It’s where our kids play, exercise and get social (development),” he said.
Advisory council president Bruce Canetti said that the project will include handicapped play equipment and two new lights which residents have requested to improve security in the park. He added that several family activities, including a concert and a movie, are planned for the park this summer.
During the final stop at Prussing, 4650 N. Major Ave., Emanuel praised the efforts of principal Dr. George Chipain, for “being a principal who is not scared to be held accountable” and pushing his students and staff to keep setting new benchmarks. Prussing has a Level 1+ performance rating, the highest mark given to Chicago schools.
“Prussing is a diverse school. That’s what makes us a successful school,” Chipain said at the event. Prussing students speak 24 languages and come from 37 countries, he said.
Alderman John Arena (45th) said that the school’s academic success and diversity help “build a strong community that is welcoming to all and “exclusive to no one.”
The $24 million project calls for the construction of an addition to the overcrowded school and several improvements to the main building, including masonry repairs and a roof replacement. The annex is scheduled to open by November.
In an interview with Nadig Newspapers, Emanuel said that the May 20 groundbreakings represent a continuing effort to bring improvements to Chicago neighborhoods. He said that investments in public schools, libraries, parks, transportation and safety improve the overall economic vitality of the communities where those investments are being made.
One of the city’s most important investments has been the expansion of the international baccalaureate program, including the “wall-to-wall” IB curriculum for all students at Wildwood School and Taft, Emanuel said. This rigorous curriculum helps students get into top universities, including a Taft junior whom Grishaber believes will be accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Emanuel said.
In 2019 it is anticipated that half of CPS graduating seniors will have earned college or career credit that can be applied to their post-secondary plans, Emanuel said. He added that by 2020 all seniors will be required to come up with an after-high school plan, whether it includes attending a 4-year university or a 2-year school, entering the military, taking an apprenticeship or beginning a full-time job.
In between two of the groundbreakings, Emanuel took time to shake hands with customers at the Shop and Save store, 6312 N. Nagle Ave., and tell them about the planned school and park improvements. Emanuel knew many of the shoppers by name, recalling his days as a Northwest Side congressman when he would walk around local stores and seek input from his constituents.
“Target days,” Emanuel said of the informal town hall meetings in which he would visit retail stores such as Target. He said that the shoppers on Sunday were as informed as ever, as several already knew about the planned improvements coming to the area.
Photos by William Swanson