CPS evaluates options for high-performing South Loop School

By Matthew Blake, Chicago Journal, February 16, 2011
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There was good news and bad news at the South Loop Elementary School local school council's biannual "State of the South Loop School" update.

The good news is that students have scored impressively on an array of state math and reading standardized tests.

The bad news is that school enrollment continues to increase and Chicago Public Schools has yet to devise a long-term plan to deal with the jump in South Loop student population.

Long-discussed plans from CPS and South Loop Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd Ward) to move some students from the school, located at 1212 S. Plymouth Ct., to another facility — such as the nearby National Teacher's Academy at 55 W. Cermak Rd. — will be tabled until next year.

"There has been a hold in the process and they are no plans for any changes in the fall," said Leslie Recht, education liaison for Fioretti.

South Loop school council representatives expressed concern to Recht about the CPS decision-making process but were mostly positive about student progress.

Kindergarten through eighth grade students both performed better on tests than the CPS average and improved their scores at a better yearly rate.

Also, South Loop elementary has started to adopt "common core" standards, an initiative by the National Governors Association and the Obama administration to have uniform state-by-state standardized tests. The standards are more rigorous than those now measured by the Illinois Standard Achievement Tests.

"We continue moving forward with higher scores," said School Council President Ellen Lorden in an interview following the meeting. "As we are growing in students, you would expect some deterioration in achievement but we are not seeing that."

Principal Tara Shelton focused on student growth speech to the council.

"At this time, CPS has met and decided to give us a year to plan our future of 2012-2013," Shelton said. "Please keep in mind, CPS is fully aware of the overcrowding issues."

The school's attendance boundary goes north to south from Wacker to 18th Street, and east to west from Lake Michigan to the Chicago River. This is one of the fastest growing areas in the city, according to U.S. Census data, and consequently the elementary school's neighborhood component has skyrocketed over the last decade.

A community meeting in July will determine spacing decisions for the 2011-12. Shelton said that barring an extraordinary burst in neighborhood enrollment, students will not be transferred to another building. Instead, measures like a split classroom or changing the teacher's lounge into a classroom may be taken.

A more long-term spacing plan will be hatched next year — one that may involve moving 6th to 8th grade students to the National Teacher's Academy.

Whether some students will move to the academy, though, remains unclear.

Lorden told Recht from that she was "freaked out" by a flier from Fioretti that South Loop Elementary has already expanded. Recht responded that Fioretti was likely referencing a plan to move students to the academy but "nothing is final."

Recht added that if it were up to Fioretti, action on South Loop Elementary would have already been taken.

"We're not CPS and we don't control CPS," Recht said. "The alderman is responsive."