Taft HS enrollment expected to reach about 4,300 this fall; school plans to drop ‘pod’ system implemented during the pandemic
by BRIAN NADIG Taft High School is expected to have about 4,300 students next fall and it will eliminate its “pod” system for classes that was used during the pandemic to group students to limit exposure to COVID-19.
It was reported at the April 5 meeting of the Taft School Local School Council that the school’s $27 million budget for 2022-23 is based on a projected enrollment of 4,289 students. “I actually expect it to be up 20, 30 (additional) kids,” principal Mark Grishaber told the council.
Taft’s 2021-22 enrollment of 4,110 was not as high as projected, as the school had to return a portion of its budget, which is based on a per-stu- dent allocation.
“It was that COVID effect,” Grishaber said. He said that in some instances families enrolled their child at a private school that had returned to in-person learning before the Chicago Public Schools did.
The next school year’s budget reflects an overall 1 percent increase from this year, but it will not be without its challenges given that teacher salaries increased by 3 per- cent, Grishaber said. “Next year we’re going to have to program tighter,” he said, adding that classes will be fuller.
The budget also includes allocations for a full-time athletic director, three new core instructional positions and two additional case managers, who work with special needs students and their parents, Grishaber said. Taft has about 1,000 diverse learners, the largest of any school in the city.
“I’ve had worse budgets. I’ve had marginally better budgets,” Grishaber said, adding that CPS officials are doing a better job of “listen- ing to principals” and addressing schools’ needs.
It also was reported that Taft will be moving away from the pod system that was implemented during the pandemic for seventh through 10th grades. It calls for students to be kept in groups of 30 for as many classes as possible in order to limit the impact of exposures to COVID- 19.
LSC teacher representative Scott Plencner reported that 88 percent of teachers in a survey indicated a desire to get rid of pods. He said that teachers expressed several concerns, including that “behavioral issues carry on to the next class” under pods.
LSC student representative Skylar Lim reported that 54 percent of students like pods and 46 percent did not. She said that some students indicated that pods make it easier to maintain friendships but others said it makes it difficult to meet new friends.
Grishaber said that he was considering whether to maintain pods due to the fact that the school’s freshman on-track rate has improved significantly. However, he said, teachers indicated Taft’s “equitable” grading policy played a large role in the improvement and that they are ta ing more measures to intervene when a student is struggling academically.
Under the grading policy, 50 percent is the lowest grade. It is intended in part to prevent a “bad” grade on one test or assignment from mak- ing it nearly impossible for a student to improve and pass the class.
Taft will be continuing with its “house” structure at the freshman academy, 4071 N. Oak Park Ave. Each house, which is similar to a larger pod, has 150 freshmen, who have the same teachers for their core academic classes.
Also at the meeting, it was announced that at least three sen- iors have been accepted to Ivy League colleges and one to the West Point military academy.
The LSC is expected to vote later this spring on whether Taft should keep its school resource officers for next fall. Currently Taft has two police officers assigned to both its varsity and freshman campuses.
CPS asks schools to create a safety plan, which can include SROs or which can allocate SRO funding for other safety measures.