Taft principal says 95 percent of school’s recent grads plan to attend college; putting green installed at varsity campus
by BRIAN NADIG
About 95 percent of Taft High School’s recent 1,000 graduates are going to college, its U.S. Naval JROTC Program will not be available to freshmen this fall and the varsity campus now has a putting green.
Taft principal Mark Grishaber discussed these updates in a June 28 interview and during his annual “state of the school” report, which was given at the May 2 meeting of the Taft Local School Council.
About 75 percent of the graduates going to college will be attending a four-year school and 25 percent will be at a two-year school, such as Wright College, Grishaber said. In 2014, about half went to 4-year colleges, he said.
“That’s a big turnaround, Grishaber said.
Taft’s enrollment is projected to be around 4,300 this fall, making it the third largest high school in the state, Grishaber said. He added that the figure could increase if there is an influx of refugees and other new arrivals enrolling, as Taft has admitted many new students from Venezuela and Ukraine in recent years.
Taft’s racial makeup includes 43.2 percent Hispanic, 42.6 percent White, 7 percent Asian and 2.8 percent Black. This is believed to be the first time Taft has had more Hispanic students than any other group, Grishaber said.
In addition, 50.2 percent of students are from low-income families and 12.5 percent are diverse learners.
Taft’s students speak 55 different home languages, with Ukrainian recently surpassing Arabic as the third most spoken language at home, Grishaber said. English and Spanish are the top two.
About 91 percent of Taft’s students live within its attendance boundaries or preference zone, which was established near the Taft Freshman Academy at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave., according to Grishaber.
Taft also admits outside students through its International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center and ROTC program.
However, due to a lack of naval instructors, the ROTC program will not have a freshman class for the upcoming school year, Grishaber said. Last year the program had about 60 freshmen, about half of who were from outside Taft’s attendance boundaries, he said.
The U.S. Navy wants the instructors to be retired veterans, but the hiring pool is shrinking, and active personnel could become eligible in the future, Grishaber said. The U.S.Army is allowing active members to serve as ROTC instructors, he said.
Several capital improvements are planned for this summer, including the installation of 50 trees, two decorative brick signs with the school name and a nine-hole putting green with an artificial surface. “I think we’ll be the only school with that,” Grishaber said of the putting green.
Taft alum Marty Baluga, who was a Chick Evans Scholar, is donating $25,000 toward the putting green, whose total cost is about $32,000, according to Grishaber.
It was installed in early July, and there will be a bench in honor of the scholarship program, which is for caddies. Taft has had 37 Evans Scholars.
Area residents already are using the putting green, and it will be used by gym classes and the golf team, Grishaber said.
The following will be posted on the brick signs: “William Howard Taft High School Est. 1939. Home to the Musical Grease. Donated by the Class of 1959.”
In other news, Taft’s 2023-24 budget is $29,755,274, up about $1.3 million from the previous year. It includes funds for a new Students Living in Temporary Conditions coordinator and a new position providing multi-tiered support services. Taft has about 80 students who are considered living in temporary conditions, which could include a shelter or the home of a non-parent relative.
These new positions will help provide support to students who are having a tough time adjusting to school, including problems of tardiness, according to Grishaber.
Grishaber said that last November Taft was experiencing higher than usual levels of tardiness and other disciplinary issues, possibly due to the impact of COVID when students became accustomed to a lack of consequences for their actions.
“I’m not going back to November 2022 again,” Grishaber said, adding that the school also will have more conflict resolution specialists. “This is my insurance policy.”
In other matters, the LSC unanimously approved a School Safety Plan that calls for the return of school resource officers on both the freshman and varsity campuses. Normally two police officers are assigned to each campus.