Taft High School to become an IB School
by by BRIAN NADIG
Concerns that their child may not be accepted to a selective enrollment high school all too often leads to families considering a move to the suburbs, but city officials hope that turning Taft High School into a neighborhood international baccalaureate school will change that.
“In fifth and sixth grade, they begin to get nervous, saying, ‘Will I have a high school for my child?’” Emanuel said at a Dec. 13 news conference at Taft. Making Taft into a “wall-to-wall” IB school for all students is just one example of the school system trying to give parents more quality choices when it comes education, Emanuel said.
Due to its rigorous curriculum, the IB program is no longer considered a “backup” plan for those students who do not get into a gifted high school, Emanuel said. Chicago students enrolled in the program are 40 percent more likely to attend a 4-year college and 50 percent more likely to attend a more selective college, Emanuel said.
Next fall Taft will join Lincoln Park, Senn, Clemente, Hyde Park and Back of the Yards as neighborhood high schools which offer the IB program throughout its curriculum for all students. One of Taft’s feeder schools, Wildwood, is also a neighborhood IB school.
Emanuel told reporters that the decision to make Taft a neighborhood IB school was due in large part to the persistency of Alderman Mary O’Connor (41st), quipping that he had to change his phone number because of her relentless efforts advocating of Taft’s behalf.
O’Connor said later that she asked school system officials to give Taft a program that would be “the best fit for this community. I told them that I wasn’t going to leave the table until you give me something to walk away with.”
Taft will continue to offer open enrollment for all students living within its attendance boundaries, but all students will follow an international baccalaureate-based curriculum, regardless of their academic background. Other programs at Taft, such as its U.S. Naval Junior ROTC program will continue, but the ROTC students will see an increase in IB-methodology in their course load.
Taft already offers an IB program in which students from throughout the city can apply to, but fewer than 10 percent of the 2,800 applicants were accepted. While the application process will still be available for outside students, local students will automatically be assigned a pre-international baccalaureate class schedule for their freshmen and sophomore years and then as upperclassmen decide whether to pursue IB course or career certificates, or an IB diploma, which can lead to course credit college.
Taft High School Local School Council president Ted Pirpiris said that many families in the community will be happy to learn that the IB program at Taft will automatically be available to their child, allowing them to bypass the application process. A recent change to the application process made it more difficult for local students to be accepted into Taft’s IB program.
Taft IB student Patrice Pirpiris said at the news conference that the program has prepared her to be a critical thinker. “Now I just don’t read. I learned to actively read,” she said. “I’ve learned to always look for a deeper meaning (and) to look at things from many perspectives.”
Pirpiris said that she turned down offers to attend Loyola Academy in Wilmette and Lincoln Park because she wanted to attend high school near her home and felt that Taft’s IB program would prepare her well for college. She said that working on group projects was made easier because students in her class lived near each other, as some of her classmates’ houses have become known as “IB gathering spots.”
Taft principal Mary Kay Cappitelli said that IB training will given to teachers throughout the school. The IB program, which started as an initiative to teach the children of diplomats, encourages better understating of world cultures and requires participants to pass a series of rigorous exams in order to earn an IB diploma.
O’Connor said that her next project for Taft may to start advocating for the construction of an addition to the school given its current overcrowded conditions and the expected enrollment increase due to the recent IB news. When asked if the mayor will have to change his phone number again, she smiled.