Top-Notch Cather School Won't Close But Could See Big Changes This Fall

By Wendell Hutson on February 4, 2013 9:30pm | Updated on February 5, 2013 4:13am

 Students at Willa Cather Elementary School, 2908 W. Washington Blvd., do not have to worry about their school closing this fall, despite its low enrollment, thanks to it  excellent academic standing.
Students at Willa Cather Elementary School, 2908 W. Washington Blvd., do not have to worry about their school closing this fall, despite its low enrollment, thanks to it  excellent academic standing.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

GARFIELD PARK — Its entire second-grade class only has 10 students. The 15 classrooms on the second floor of its two-story building are empty.

But even though Willa Cather Elementary School enrolls just 250 students and is far under its 600-student capacity, the school will not be among the schools closed this fall by the Chicago Public Schools.

That's because Cather is a Level 1 school, which means it is in excellent standing academically, and CPS has announced none of its highest-performing schools will be closed down for low enrollment. 

However, the school could be in line for big changes in the fall, officials said during a tour of the facility Monday. Cather could become a receiving school for more students if another nearby school is closed, said Marielle Sainvilus, a spokeswoman for CPS.

"Should that happen more resources would be allocated to Cather based on its student population," she said.

Hattie King, principal at the school since 2003, would welcome more resources.

When King first arrived at Cather its student population averaged around 350. King said  gentrification taking place around the school has contributed greatly to its population decline.

"This used to be an all-black area with blue-collar parents but that has changed as more white-collar, young couples with no children move into the redeveloped properties," King said. "We have to make Cather more attractive to new residents so they would want to send their children to the neighborhood school."

One way would be to have afterschool programs for those parents who do not get off work in time to pick their kids up, King said. The school day starts at Cather at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m.

Another way would be to hire more staff.

"We have a library but not a librarian,'' King said.

"I had to choose from hiring a gym teacher or a librarian, a choice I wish I did not have to make," King added. "But when you are working with limited resources these are the choices put before me."

There is also an unused computer lab on the second floor.

Still, in addition to its excellent academic standing, Cather has other advantages. There is only one class per grade, and its average class has 22 students.

And Cather recently began offering "Saturday School," which runs for six-weeks from 8:30 a.m. to noon, as an enrichment program for students needing tutoring.

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