CPS closing South Loop gifted program
By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago TRIBUNE, November 10, 2011
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Just as Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called for better school options for parents living in the city, Chicago Public Schools is planning to do away with a regional gifted program at South Loop Elementary School.
Gifted programs are among the most competitive elementary school options in the city. The phaseout at South Loop — a neighborhood school that accepts students from across the city who test into its regional gifted program — has many parents concerned about whether the new administration is serious about offering academically rigorous programs for gifted children.
"I do think eliminating an entire gifted program when options are dwindling rapidly is a big problem," said Marla Vender, parent of a second-grader at the South Loop gifted program.
Ben Shanbaum, whose daughter just started in kindergarten at the school this year, said he would have explored other gifted programs in the city if he had known the program eventually would be eliminated.
"It's like finding that you've won something and then finding that it's not what you expected it to be or that it will be significantly different down the road," said Shanbaum, who travels from Bridgeport every day so his daughter can attend the school.
Principal Tara Shelton has said that students already in the program will be allowed to continue, but Shanbaum worries that the school's space crunch could lead to non-neighborhood students being pushed out sooner.
Already, he said, the news has shifted dramatically in just a few months.
In September, overcrowding problems at the school led Shelton to announce that the school would not be accepting kindergarten applicants to its gifted program in the coming year, thus limiting the number of students in the building.
Then on Nov. 3, the principal sent out another note, stating that the regional gifted program would be ending over the next eight years. In the letter to parents, Shelton said she had been in discussions with district officials and both had come to the decision.
Many parents argue that with better planning, this could have been avoided. CPS predicted last year that with young families choosing to stay in the South Loop, the school would exceed its capacity in 2011-12, and it had proposed splitting the school population with another school a little farther south. Many parents living in the neighborhood rejected that idea.
Nearly one-third of South Loop's 700 children — 224 students — are in gifted classes from kindergarten through eighth grade. Across the city, thousands of students test every year for a handful of coveted spots at selective-enrollment elementary schools. With another option gone, parents will have only 14 schools to choose from for the 2012-13 school year.
CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said the district is looking at the entire school system as it prepares a portfolio of school options.
"In theory as we're building a portfolio strategy to increase student achievement, parents may find programs conducive to their needs," she said.
Shanbaum hopes that means there's still a chance for a gifted program in the area.