CPS reveals details for National Teachers Academy gifted program

Not official yet, but planning under way to shift program from South Loop Elementary

08/23/2012 7:56 PM

By Ben Meyerson
Editor

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The National Teachers Academy, on Cermak Road at the far end of the South Loop, is set to take over South Loop Elementary’s gifted program, a Chicago Public aSchools official confirmed at a meeting Wednesday.

The decision isn’t final, but plans for the new regional gifted center are being laid out by CPS, as well as the school’s new principal, Isaac Castelaz, and its immediate past principal, Amy Rome. Chicago Journal first reported on the possibility earlier this week.

“We’re proposing this because, based on other schools in the area, this is the option that we like the best,” said Patrick Payne, an official with CPS’ portfolio office.

Payne said he expects it to be finalized in a couple of weeks.

South Loop Elementary’s gifted program is being phased out one class at a time to make space in the packed building for more neighborhood students. Beginning this fall, the school isn’t accepting a new gifted kindergarten class; next year, it also won’t accept a first-grade class, and so on. Existing gifted students will be able to finish their education at South Loop, and any empty seats in the grades that remain will still be filled.

The National Teachers Academy had been floated several times as an expansion option for South Loop Elementary because the brand-new building is half-empty. Its attendance boundaries are small as well, roughly bounded by Lake Michigan, Wentworth Avenue, 18th Street and 24th Place.

When it first opened, it was packed with kids mainly from the Chicago Housing Authority’s Harold Ickes Homes. When the projects were torn down, space opened up quickly.

The school’s current enrollment for this fall is 520 students, many of whom were one-time transfers from Kenwood’s Price Elementary, which CPS closed this year. Last year, the National Teachers Academy had 443 students. The school’s ideal capacity is 840 students, according to a document distributed by CPS at Wednesday’s meeting. The document says the school could accommodate up to 1,008 students before becoming overcrowded.

Each new gifted class would add another 30 students to the academy, for a total of about 270 students in addition to neighborhood kids. The gifted program would start in fall 2014 with classes in kindergarten and first grade.

A gifted program at the school would give the rest of the academy more resources. For every two grade levels added at a gifted center, the school gets an extra teacher. Castelaz, the academy’s principal, would hire a Mandarin Chinese language teacher, the document said.

Pick up the Aug. 23 issue of Chicago Journal for an interview with National Teachers Academy’s new principal, Castelaz, and a look at the school’s past.

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