"It was like it was still the 1980s," Ready said. "It was very old school, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It was just kind of stuck."
With the help of a newly formed parent group determined to raise money and awareness about the Northwest Side school at 5330 W. Berteau Ave., Ready is working to bring the school into the 21st Century.
That means adding art, drama, music and sports to the curriculum — and finding a way to pay for it at a time when school budgets are strapped to the breaking point, Ready said.
"We're a middle-class school, and we can't always ask the parents for more money, so we're looking to tap into the community," Ready said. "We're a hidden gem. My big push is to let parents know how wonderful it is."
Barbara Murphy, whose 7-year-old son attends Portage Park Elementary School, founded Portage Park Helping Hands this fall and is determined to put the school on the map.
"I'm invested in this school," Murphy said. "I figured I might as well do something about it."
Portage Park was rated Level 2 by Chicago Public Schools officials, the middle tier academically. In addition, district officials said the school building was being used efficiently, with 1,116 students attending class in a building with an ideal capacity of 1,050, according to data released by the district.
"We're a neighborhood school that lacks the extras," Ready said. "We want to educate the whole child, and create a well-rounded school."
To do that, Portage Park Helping Hands has asked the teachers and Ready to put together a wish list of things they want and need in their classrooms. Topping that list is technology: iPads, smart boards and computers in every classroom, Murphy said.
Making sure the school can offer its students the latest technology is particularly important to Murphy, whose son has special needs and is fascinated by his iPad at home. Through Donors Choose, Portage Park Helping Hands donated seven iPads to the school this fall.
"The teachers also need better enrichment training, so we're working to make that happen," Murphy said.
In addition, the group is working with Ald. John Arena (45th) to establish a business sponsorship program, and planning for a gala fundraiser in the spring and an alumni gathering in July.
"We're trying to get more people involved," Murphy said. "It's hard to do this all by ourselves."
During the school year, Portage Park Helping Hands plans to hold monthly fundraisers at Sutherland's Food and Bar at 5353 W. Irving Park Road featuring a trivia quiz. The next one will take place at 8 p.m. March 4. The cost is $20, and a raffle will be held for a three-day gift certificate for the Yoga Shop, 3880 N. Milwaukee Ave.
"We have some really excited, smart parents," Ready said. "The sky's the limit."