Long view at South Loop still a bit hazy
CPS has few specifics on gifted class cuts at the neighborhood school
03/14/2012 10:00 PM
Parents at South Loop Elementary want details on the looming phase-out of the school’s regional gifted program, but so far the school district is short on hard answers.
Earlier this week, officials from Chicago Public Schools met with parents and faculty at South Loop Elementary, 1212 S. Plymouth Ct., to discuss the agency’s plans to gradually close out the school’s regional gifted program.
In November, South Loop Principal Tara Shelton announced plans to cut the entire program, at a rate of one grade per year, to counter potential over-enrollment in its neighborhood program.
South Loop has seen a surge of new applications in the past few years, as students at the school continue to trump district-wide state testing standards by about 20 percent annually.
“Although the [gifted center] 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,” wrote Shelton in a letter to parents.
Shelton said that the eight-year draw down would reduce the school’s population by approximately 224 students, or nine classrooms. The gifted program makes up about one-third of the school’s nearly 700-student population, in a building fit for 916.
New enrollment was closed for South Loop’s 2012-13 gifted kindergarten program earlier that year, as well as for out-of-boundary students following the announcement.
At the meeting, held on Monday, CPS Chief Portfolio Officer Oliver Sicat told a roomful of anxious parents that the district had yet to yield a long-term strategy for implementing the phase out, meaning that the schedule—along with the very proposal to cut the entire program—was still open for interpretation.
“No decisions have been made; this is the start of the new process,” he said. “Consider this a step forward.”
Sicat said that CPS intended to look at “any and all options” regarding the gifted center, including an oft-floated pitch to move South Loop’s regional gifted center to the National Teachers Academy at 55 W. Cermak Road.
The district, he said, would continue to re-evaluate the decision to close the program as time went on.
That “day-by-day” approach left much to be desired, said parent and Hyde Park resident Patrick Turnock.
“We need consistency,” said Turnock, whose son is in the school’s gifted kindergarten program. “If you can’t say this is where my son is going to school for the next eight years … why wouldn’t I take him out and put in him my neighborhood school, or send him over to a parochial school?”
Others worried that the remaining classes could suffer a drop in priority if the district put a block on gifted students transferring into South Loop’s remaining classes.
While he promised that the flexibility of the gifted classes moving forward would not hinge on the spatial needs of the school’s neighborhood program, Sicat said that CPS had yet to form a firm rule on whether it would keep the school’s gifted program open to transfers or if it would look for ways to better consolidate resources.
“I think we’re going to have to take it out on a year-to-year basis,” he said.
The high-performing kindergarten-through-eighth grade school is one of 13 in Chicago that house regional gifted centers, serving academically advanced students across the city who test into the programs.
Only three of those centers, including two full-site facilities, are located on the South Side.
Given South Loop’s location, some in the audience warned that closing the school’s regional gifted center would effectively cut off access to gifted programs for students in that generally underserved part of the city.
“One thing I do know, without looking at any of the research, is that there is a dire need on the South Side,” said one parent.
While CPS didn’t have much to give up in the way of long-term visions for the closing of the gifted program, officials promised to focus on bringing South Loop’s student body back down to manageable numbers, “which puts South Loop back on a road to efficiency,” said CPS Director of School Demographics Jimm Dispensa.
Sicat reminded parents that the issues facing South Loop (and a number of other public schools in Chicago) could be sourced to the school’s high test scores — a bittersweet reward.
“Success has brought this problem on,” he said.