Looking for consensus
Working group will address overcrowding at South Loop School
04/07/2010 10:00 PM
Recent South Loop School Enrollment Trends
Source: Chicago Public Schools
A new working group headed by Chicago Public Schools administrator Jose Alvarez will attempt to identify a consensus solution to South Loop Elementary School’s overcrowding.
Alvarez, who works in the Office of School Relations, told parents at a meeting Monday the new group must represent each parent constituency at South Loop — from those whose kids entered South Loop through its gifted program to parents with children in the school’s pre-K program.
The group will have 12 members at most, Alvarez said, including local elected officials.
Its meetings, as working sessions, won’t be open for public participation, Alvarez said. He anticipated a report-back meeting this summer, likely in June. By August at the latest, CPS wants to have a plan for South Loop ready for sign-off by either schools’ chief executive Ron Huberman or the Chicago Board of Education, should a board vote be necessary.
South Loop’s current structure will stay the same for the upcoming 2010-2011 school year, principal Tara Shelton reiterated to parents Monday, with kindergarteners locating in the school’s Early Childhood Center, 1915 S. Federal, and first through eighth graders using the main building at 1212 S. Plymouth.
Classrooms are available in both, Shelton said, should a fourth kindergarten or fourth first-grade class be needed. She acknowledged space will be at a premium, and asked neighborhood parents to enroll students this month to allow administrators plenty of time to plan.
“We will be very, very tight,” she said.
Primary grade enrollment has swelled with the neighborhood’s growth and South Loop’s waxing reputation, resulting in two kindergarten classes filled by neighborhood students instead of what had been a single class per year in addition to one gifted class made up of students from across Chicago and the neighborhood.
There are currently 640 students at South Loop, an increase of more than 22 percent from the 2007-2008 school year, according to CPS.
That rise has been driven by a 30 percent increase in students enrolling through South Loop’s neighborhood attendance boundary.
CPS estimates suggest there are a minimum of 151 students who reside within the South Loop attendance boundary but do not attend the school.
A range of ideas have been floated for solving the school’s capacity issues.
South Loop’s local school council established a growth subcommittee to discuss recommendations.
That group whittled various proposals down to four, according to parent and committee member Jennifer Rakstad: move the middle school to another space; phase out the gifted program; move the gifted program; or move the entire school to another location.
In December of last year, CPS planner Jimm Dispensa floated moving South Loop’s upper grades to empty classrooms in the National Teachers Academy building, 55 W. Cermak, for the ’10-’11 school year. CPS later backed away from that idea.
Alvarez said Monday that all options remain on the table for solving South Loop’s overcrowding, short of a capital project. A new elementary school, he said, is costing CPS around $40 million; an addition to an existing building, $15 million.
“The dollars just are not there,” he said.
Alvarez referred to but declined Monday to discuss specific solutions under consideration by CPS staff.
He promised to form an additional working group should another school’s space be used as part of the South Loop solution.
Parents with children attending National Teachers Academy criticized CPS earlier this year, saying they were left out of discussions about South Loop potentially using the NTA building.