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Rogers Park’s neighborhood schools are making great strides, led by some of the most dynamic and forward thinking principals our community has seen in generations. Performance ratings are trending up in most of our schools and a new spirit of hope and optimism fills our school halls.
Yet our schools still face some very real challenges.
I’ve been meeting with local educators about these challenges and together we’ve devised a possible way to overcome some of our biggest obstacles, giving our schools the support they need to educate our children and prepare them for a fulfilling and productive life.
Sullivan High School Principal Chad Adams is hosting a community meeting at which I will report on the challenges, present a proposal to improve our schools and gather feedback from parents and community residents. The meeting will take place on Tuesday, August 30th, 7:00 p.m., at the Sullivan High School auditorium, 6631 N. Bosworth. Officials from the Chicago Public Schools and principals from our neighborhood schools will attend.
Below is a summary of my report, including an outline of the demographic challenges our schools face and a possible solution to those challenges.
The demographic challenges facing our local schools
Many of our local neighborhood schools have experienced a sharp drop in enrollment over the last 15 years. A small percentage of this decline no doubt is attributable to parents choosing to send their children to magnet, charter or private schools, but the vast majority of the enrollment drop reflects demographic changes in Rogers Park. Simply put, far fewer school-aged children live in Rogers Park today than lived here 15 years ago.
According to the United States Census, 11,884 children, ages 14 and under, lived in Rogers Park in 2000. That number declined sharply to 7,673 in 2010. Census officials estimate the number of school-aged children in Rogers Park has continued to decline since 2010, albeit not as sharply, to an estimated 7,438 school-aged children in 2014.
In short, the number of school-aged children living in Rogers Park has fallen by over 37% since 2000. Demographers at the Chicago Public Schools expect this reduction in the number of school-aged children in Rogers Park to continue for the foreseeable future.
The reduction in the number of school-aged children living in Rogers Park is reflected in the decline in enrollment at our local schools. The enrollment decline is especially pronounced at Eugene Field Elementary School, located at 7019 N. Ashland, which until last year was a grades 4-8 neighborhood public school and is now a grades 5-8 school. Below is a chart, which sets forth Field School’s past enrollment and future projections:
As the chart indicates, 633 students attended Field in the 2003-04 academic year, just 57 students shy of its ideal capacity of 690 students. Since then, enrollment at Field has dropped to just 300 students.
This September, enrollment at Field is expected to plunge to 205 students, a decline attributable in part, but not entirely, to the decision of Field School’s feeder school, New Field Primary School, to expand from a K-3 school to a K-4 school.
Demographers predict Field School’s enrollment decline will continue, so that by the fall of 2021, Field will see a projected enrollment of 176 students, or only 25% of its capacity. This simply is not sustainable. As CPS funds schools on a per pupil basis, fewer students at Field mean less money and fewer educational resources and opportunities for the students who remain. And it would be very difficult to justify keeping open a school building that is at a mere 25% capacity.
Though the decline in enrollment is less dramatic at Joyce Kilmer Elementary School, located at 6700 N. Greenview, that school also experienced a sharp reduction in the number of students attending the school and is projected to lose more in the next five years. Below is a chart that sets forth the enrollment trends at Kilmer:
As the chart above indicates, Kilmer’s enrollment in the 2001-02 academic year stood at 1,264, exceeding the school building’s capacity by about 150 students. Since then, Kilmer has seen a significant decline in its enrollment, with 744 students enrolled last year and 702 students expected to enroll this September. CPS projects Kilmer’s enrollment will continue to drop to an estimated 583 students in 2021, leaving the school at slightly over 50% capacity.
Despite these challenges, the academic environment at Kilmer has improved significantly under the leadership of Prinicpal Jean McKeown Papagianis. In just three years, Kilmer developed an arts-rich curriculum and rose from a level 3 CPS rating to a level 2+ rating, just barely missing a level 1 rating. Kilmer also is making enormous strides in serving our diverse learners and English language learners, cementing Kilmer’s reputation as a school that provides excellent educational opportunities for students of all backgrounds and abilities.
Unfortunately, Kilmer’s declining enrollment makes it much more difficult for Principal Papagianis and her staff to continue their progress. As with Field, fewer students at Kilmer mean less money for the school, forcing the principal and the Local School Council to lay off teachers and other staff.
Meanwhile, a school located in West Ridge is facing an entirely opposite challenge–not enough space. Stephen Decatur Classical School, a K-6 selective enrollment school located at 7030 N. Sacramento, is bursting at the seams. Below is a chart that sets forth its overcrowding issues:
As the chart indicates, Decatur school has been consistently overcrowded. This fall’s enrollment at Decatur is expected to reach 293, which is 53 students, or 22%, over the ideal capacity of 240. Because of the building’s small size, Decatur has no lunch room–students eat at their desks–and the “gymnasium,” allows for only 95 people at a time, forcing the school to either keep students inside their classrooms for recess during inclement weather or walk them two blocks to the Horwich Jewish Community Center gymnasium.
Space limitations allow for only 10 classrooms, leaving some grades with one classroom per grade. The school’s “library” functions as a multipurpose room, which houses the music, literacy and Latin teacher, along with upper grade literacy instructors. Often music lessons and student groups find themselves meeting in the library at the same time.
Despite these challenges, Decatur is consistently rated as one of the top elementary schools in the State of Illinois.
Decatur’s small size also prevents it from expanding its offerings to the seventh and eighth grades. The school, which offers a classical education to students from kindergarten until sixth grade, wants to add a seventh and eighth grade so students and their parents don’t face the stress and pressure of finding a school to attend for seventh and eighth grades before again having to find a high school.
Decatur and its parents have been pressing the Board of Education for years to either expand their existing building or find a new location that would accommodate two additional grade levels, as well as a full-size gymnasium and lunch room. Unfortunately, CPS simply does not have enough money in its capital budget to finance in the foreseeable future a multi-million dollar construction of an addition to Decatur, and two vacant north side schools, Trumbull and Stewart were unfit for Decatur’s needs.
As I grappled with the challenges of two underutilized schools in Rogers Park and an overcrowded school in the neighboring West Ridge community, I came up with an intriguing idea: Why not bring to Rogers Park one of the best public schools in the state, while at the same time addressing the challenges that declining enrollment pose to our neighborhood schools?
After extended discussions with our local principals, public education advocates and top officials at CPS, I’ve developed the following two-part proposal for your consideration that I believe will put Rogers Park on the map as a community of strong quality schools for students of all abilities.
To address the growing decline in the number of school-aged children residing in Rogers Park and preserve and enhance the strength of our neighborhood public school system, I propose we merge Field School into Kilmer School. Instead of two neighborhood schools with declining enrollment and dwindling resources, we could build on the successes of Kilmer Principal Papagianis and create one strong school with growing enrollment and the resources and opportunities that such an enrollment would bring.
Under the proposal, children who attend Kilmer’s K-8 program and New Field’s K-4 program would continue to attend their respective schools, but Kilmer, rather than Field, would become the new feeder school for New Field’s graduating fourth graders.
Here’s the projected enrollment at Kilmer if the two schools merged:
As the chart indicates, the merger of the two schools would result in a 28% increase in Kilmer’s enrollment over the next five years, from an estimated 702 students this fall to 900 students in the fall of 2021. CPS’ per pupil funding policy also would mean a corresponding increase in funding for Kilmer, helping Kilmer achieve its goal of becoming a permanently rated Level 1 school. This will enable Kilmer to continue to build its excellent programs for diverse learners and English language learners and maintain and enhance its impressive arts rating.
The increase in enrollment and corresponding increase in funding also will provide Principal Papagianis and her LSC additional leverage to secure their long-sought-after International Baccalaureate program to meet the needs of advanced and global learners and much-needed improvements to the school yard and playground.
Part 2 of the proposal calls for moving Decatur School into the Field School building. This would enable Decatur to offer seventh and eighth grade classes and provide at least two classes per grade, thereby increasing Decatur’s enrollment by 60 to 80%.
As a result, more qualifying CPS students would receive the benefits of attending one of the highest ranking schools in the state and Decatur’s students and families would no longer be required to find another school for seventh and eighth grades. Decatur also would be able to enjoy some of the amenities that other schools now take for granted, such as a cafeteria and a full-sized auditorium and gymnasium.
Locating Decatur School in Rogers Park will provide our students who are advanced learners a classical education option right here in our own neighborhood. Decatur is not a school for the elite; it is a public education choice for children who respond to and want a classical education–one of the traditional learning options. Its expanded presence in Rogers Park will open that option to more of our neighborhood’s children by enhancing opportunities for them to receive an education in the way they learn best.
Taken together, this two-part proposal would result in an estimated 17 additional teaching positions in Rogers Park’s schools.
This is a “win-win” for our community. We increase the quality of our neighborhood school offerings by increasing enrollment and combining resources into Kilmer and avoid the specter of an empty school building by bringing to Rogers Park a first-rate public classical school that will expand its offerings, allowing more advanced learners into its program.
Of course this proposal requires the support of CPS and the Board of Education. It also requires the support of our local principals, teachers and staff, the parents and the community as a whole.
The timing of this transition would be up to the Board of Education in consultation with our parents, school principals, teachers and staff, the Local School Councils and the community as a whole. If all sign off on it, the transition could begin as early as September, 2017. Whether the full merger of Field and Kilmer is completed at one time or phased-in over a few years to allow current Field students to complete their studies in the current Field building is a detail that would need to be worked out with the affected schools and the community.
I’ve shared this proposal with Kilmer Principal Papagianis, Sullivan High School Principal Chad Adams, and New Field School Principal Carlos Patiño. All expressed preliminary support for the idea and see it as a way to strengthen our Rogers Park schools and encourage parents to keep their children enrolled in them from kindergarten all the way through high school. On average, one-third of the families whose children graduate from the Level-1+-rated New Field School do not send their kids to Field School and instead enroll them at schools elsewhere in the City.
Sullivan High School Principal Adams is especially excited about the proposal, envisioning a seamless transition from New Field to Kilmer to Sullivan, which will strengthen all three schools and help his efforts to rebuild Sullivan’s enrollment.
I also shared these ideas with Decatur principal Susan Kukielka and some members of Decatur’s LSC. Though they are withholding final approval until they discuss it thoroughly with Decatur’s parents, their initial reaction is extremely positive.
CPS officials are also receptive to the idea, subject to a full community process and the support of key players, starting with the local principals.
Finally, I shared the proposal with some members of the Field, New Field and Kilmer LSCs, who are open to the idea, but want to know specifically how the merger would benefit Kilmer.
Having garnered generally positive feedback from some of the key players, it is now time to share this proposal with the most important people of all–the parents teachers, school staff and the community as a whole. Once again, I invite you to attend the community meeting that Principal Chad Adams is hosting to allow me to present the proposal formally. As I note above, the meeting will take place on Tuesday, August 30th, 7:00 p.m. at the Sullivan High School Auditorium, 6631 N Bosworth.
Needless to say, this proposal is not set in stone. I do not run the local schools nor set education policy. I am simply an alderman, who is continually looking for ways to improve our community.
Just yesterday, I relayed the news of the appointment of a dynamic, new principal at Stephen Gale Math and Science Academy. Rogers Park’s schools clearly are on the move and we must continue to fuel that forward momentum.
I know the proposal contains a lot of moving parts, but I believe in our schools and believe Rogers Park can become a community, in which every school offers quality education opportunities for children of all strengths and abilities. Change can often be intimidating. But when it comes to our children, we should not shy away from new, bold and innovative ideas to strengthen our schools and build our children’s futures.
I look forward to the community discussion and urge you to be a part of it.