South Loop Elementary School completely eliminating gifted program

In Friday night email, Principal Tara Shelton says kindergarten through eighth grade will be cut

11/04/2011 6:40 PM

By Ben Meyerson

10 Comments - Add Your Comment

UPDATE Thursday, Nov. 10: Click here to read an updated version of this article; Click here to read about Wednesday's local school council meeting debating the announcement.

A month after South Loop Elementary School announced it would cuts its gifted program for kindergarten, principal Tara Shelton announced Friday night that the school is permanently cutting the entire gifted program.

South Loop School’s main building, at 1212 S. Plymouth Ct., has become overcrowded and needed more space, Shelton said in an email announcing the change. But without new space to expand into, the best solution was to reduce the number of students coming into the school, she wrote.

So Shelton said she reached the conclusion with officials from Chicago Public Schools that the best option would be to remove the school’s regional gifted center entirely — not just kindergarten, as originally proposed last month. The result would be more room for local students, she said.

“Although the RGC has been an attractive asset to our school in previous years, I'm confident that we will continue to thrive and excel with our dedicated parents, teachers, and community,” Shelton said. “I hope you will embrace these changes and continue to make South Loop one of Chicago's schools of choice.”

One grade level of the gifted program will be phased out beginning in the 2012-2013 school year and for each of the next eight years, Shelton said. Each child currently in the gifted program will still graduate from South Loop School, but no new gifted students or classes will be admitted.

With roughly 28 students per class, Shelton wrote, the end result will be about 224 new seats open to kids in the community. Shelton also said that siblings of current students who live outside of the school’s neighborhood boundaries will not be accepted for the 2012-2013 school year, and will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis after that.

“Based on the continued concern expressed by some parents about neighborhood class size, it was determined that phasing out the RGC would provide the space needed to accommodate the neighborhood growth,” Shelton wrote. “This was a difficult decision to come to, but the result will be less disruptive to SLS families, children and staff than the other options and allow SLS to continue to serve K-8 with excellence.”

The full text of the letter is below. For more information, read the Nov. 10 issue of Chicago Journal.

November 3, 2011

Dear South Loop Families and Community,
Due to the population growth of the surrounding neighborhood and the continuing academic achievements of our students, demand for enrollment at South Loop School has steadily increased over the last several years. Since 2009, two Growth Committees have worked with our school administration, CPS staff, and the school and neighborhood communities to discuss solutions to the issues of overcrowding and space constraints.

Over the past weeks, I've been in further discussions with CPS district officials regarding these issues. CPS officials and I agreed to a final solution that best serves the needs of current South Loop School students and families.

In my previous letter I stated that South Loop School would not admit a Kindergarten Regional Gifted Center (RGC) class for the 2012-13 school year. Today I announce that we will extend that strategy by permanently phasing out the South Loop School RGC program. Thus, over an eight-year period we will see a reduction in this source of enrollment pressure of approximately 28 students per year (one classroom) for a total reduction of 224 students (nine classrooms). Again, no new RGC students will be enrolled at South Loop School, but all current South Loop RGC students will be able to "graduate" out of South Loop School's RGC program as eighth graders.

In addition, beginning immediately and continuing through the 2012-2013 school year, I will institute a freeze on the admission of out-of-boundary siblings of current SLS students. After the 2012-2013
school years such admissions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

How to best use the space of our two buildings to serve our students for the 2012-2013 school year will be based on enrollment trends. Please note that at this time no final decisions have been made to move classrooms or grades. An updated plan will be distributed to all parents by June 2012.

I'm sure these decisions will raise many questions. I've tried to anticipate some of these questions and added them to the bottom of this letter.

If there are any additional questions I didn't address below, please email me at At next weeks LSC meeting (November 9th) I will answer any submitted questions. I will also discuss my vision for the future of South Loop.

Although the RGC has been an attractive asset to our school in previous years, I'm confident that we will continue to thrive and excel with our dedicated parents, teachers, and community. I hope you will embrace these changes and continue to make South Loop one of Chicago's schools of choice.

As always, I value your commitment to South Loop School. I appreciate the input I received these past months.

Yours in education,

Tara Shelton

Frequently Asked Questions re: Phase out of Regional Gifted Center (RGC) at South Loop School (SLS)

1. What happens to my child if he/she is currently in the South Loop School (SLS) Regional Gifted Center (RGC)? Will the resources be reduced over this 8 year phase out period?

Your child will continue to receive the high quality education you are currently experiencing through his/her eighth grade graduation year. The RGC will not relocate to another site prior to the current kindergarten gifted students eighth grade year. Resources will not be reduced over the next 8 years. Our current teacher positions are board funded based on student enrollment. Reducing one gifted classroom per year will not result in the loss of a teacher position because the current neighborhood enrollment trend will balance the reduction of the one gifted classroom. This will continue throughout the phase out period depending on enrollment numbers.

2. What are the plans for the branch building? Will the lower grades stay there?

The Branch will continue to be fully utilized and yes, some lower grades will stay there. Which specific classrooms can not be determined until later in the school year when I have a more accurate idea of the student enrollment for 2012-2013? The decision will be provided by June 2012.

3. If I live out of the boundary and I have a child in either the RGC or Neighborhood class (via lottery), will my other child be able to attend SLS via a lottery program?

For 2012-2013 school year out of boundary siblings will not be accepted for enrollment. For 2013-2014 school year out of bound siblings will be accepted again based on available space.

4. Will there be any lottery at all for the 2012-2013 school year?

There will not be any lottery for 2012-2013 school year.

5. Are there plans to reinstate the RGC at SLS at some point in the future?

At this time I can only anticipate that if there is a need for SLS to reinstate the RGC, CPS will be open for this discussion. However, South Loop School will continue to thrive as a hybrid school and continue to build its neighborhood program.

6. Are there any plans of moving the middle school to a different location in the future?

There are no plans to move the middle school to a different location in the future. At this time it is my priority to keep our current families housed in two locations only: Main Building and the Branch. Three locations would be difficult to manage. The K-8 model we currently have has a proven record of excellent student preparation demonstrated by the high rate of placement of our 8th graders in selective enrollment high schools.

7. Is there a target enrollment level that are expected with these changes?

Based on our current trend of neighborhood enrollment, I expect we will continue to enroll three neighborhood classrooms of kindergarten for the next several years. Another option available to South Loop if our enrollment ever drops is to accept applications through our Magnet Cluster Lottery program. This program allows South Loop to accept students citywide through our Fine Arts Magnet option.

8. Were any other options considered by CPS?

Yes. For the last two to three years, we have been actively engaged in discussions with families as well as CPS. We discussed moving specific grades to other locations, moving the entire RGC to another location, reducing enrollment in incoming Kindergarten and/or preschool classes, and changing the boundaries, among other options. Based on the continued concern expressed by some parents about neighborhood class size, it was determined that phasing out the RGC would provide the space needed to accommodate the neighborhood growth. This was a difficult decision to come to, but the result will be less disruptive to SLS families, children and staff than the other options and allow SLS to continue to serve K-8 with excellence.

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By Educator from South Loop
Posted: 11/20/2011 10:35 AM

I agree totally with interested observer. Shelton has allowed her people to come in from outside the school boundaries in a purposeful attempt to dilute the racial mix. They are not ready for the gifted program but she has brought them in nevertheless. Now they have ruined the gifted program. It is a shame and I feel for the poor qualified kids who are left non competitive because thigs are dumbed down to cater to Sheltons losers being brought it. She has to go.

By south loop from south loop
Posted: 11/19/2011 1:05 PM

the sudden announcement. familiar. I hate to bring it up, but... Sounds like when the community woke up one day to find a fence being built around a park district park. No meetings in advance, nothing....after one year, and some \"meetings\" (after the decision had been made) construction resumed. I seem to remember nothing but praise for Ms. Shelton at the time? the more things change, the more they stay the same?

By Interested observer
Posted: 11/14/2011 2:26 PM

Principals typically have huge support from the parents at any school whether deserved or not. At this school there is the added bonus that many parents are in debt to the principal because she allowed their children to attend the school at her sole discretion. In fact if you took out all those students who are in the neighborhood program and live outside the boundaries the school would not be overcrowded nor would there be any need to phase out the gifted program.

By Tara Shelton Needs to Go from Near South Side
Posted: 11/13/2011 3:48 PM

Educator: I agree with your points that Shelton is interested in "bringing in her friends to the school" and that "She has to go." However on your other point of "there is a rising movement to do that" is something that I wish were true. I just don't see any evidence of it, unfortunately! Every chance parents have had to hold Shelton accountable, like her annual LSC job reviews, they have always shied away from doing so. It's almost as if they are afraid of her! Don't be afraid! Stand up to her!

By WestLooper from WestLoop
Posted: 11/13/2011 1:35 PM

The reason gifted programs exist is to give smart kids a proper education, the same reason there are special programs for disabled kids. Nothing will extinguish a love of learning faster than boring a smart kid with the slow pace appropriate for average kids.

By Educator from South Loop
Posted: 11/13/2011 12:28 PM

The closing of the gifted program proves that Shelton is not interested in education. What she is interested in is bringing in her friends to the school who are not gifted and putting them into the gifted program dumbing it down even further. She has to go. The gifted parents made the school by donating time and effort. Her people did nothing but take and take and take from free lunches to free after school programs. Now she has to go and there is a rising movement to do that.

By SouthLooper from SouthLoop
Posted: 11/11/2011 1:01 PM

Tara Shelton is a terrible principal and needs to go! The LSC at South Loop School needs to stop coddling her and force her out!

By southlooper from South Loop
Posted: 11/10/2011 8:56 PM

There had to be a "gifted program" eight years ago in order to "turn around" a failing school by attracting middle class families to which was back then a school for mostly underprivileged children. Now that these families made it work, there is no longer need for this so called gifted program. Ironically, gifted students will now be able to benefit from this closing, since they will be able to apply to gifted schools which are truly equipped to serve their needs more than this "turnaround."

By south loop from south loop
Posted: 11/10/2011 8:30 PM

Why did there have to be a "gifted" program? What did that say to the other students who weren't "gifted"??

By WestLooper from West Loop
Posted: 11/06/2011 10:43 PM

This seems so short-sighted. If you've got a good thing going, keep it going and find a way to make the space work. Ultimately the lack of an RGC at South Loop will be to the detriment of the entire school. What kind of input from the community did the principal get?