WEST TOWN — Some academically challenged students at James Otis Elementary School in West Town could be attending school on Saturday, an effort reportedly being encouraged for other Chicago Public Schools as well.
On Wednesday, Otis' Local School Council voted unanimously to spend $60,000 to fund the program, which could begin as early as December and will offer weekend classes to a maximum of 45 students.
Otis' Principal Jaime Sanchez told parents that the area school network, Fulton, is "highly encouraging Saturday school" in its North Side group.
He described the Saturday effort as "like an academic intervention" and not related to behavioral problems.
Saturday classes at Otis, 525 N. Armour St., would be held from 8:30-11:30 a.m. There would be three tiers of classes: pre-K, elementary and intermediate students. No class would exceed 15 pupils, officials said.
Three teachers would be paid their hourly wage, with no time and a half even though it's a weekend, Sanchez said.
Teachers would work to identify students based on test results from ISAT and NWEA or Common Core Assessment, Sanchez said.
The four-week to 10-week sessions would be "voluntary [and] not mandatory," Sanchez said.
Parents must give permission for their child to be enrolled. If they decline the Saturday classes, the school would need to provide documentation to CPS indicating that the classes were offered, Sanchez said.
Sanchez was unable to confirm how many other elementary schools in the Fulton Network planned to offer Saturday school to boost academic performance. A CPS spokeswoman could not immediately provide numbers on Saturday classes in the district.
CPS currently offers a Saturday school program for sixth- through 12th-grade students with disciplinary problems, conducting the Saturday Morning React Out and Teach program as alternative to expulsion.
Otis' funding represented about half of its miscellaneous rollover budget of $120,000.
Sanchez said this program was discussed with existing network chief Shonda Hardman.
CPS is reorganizing the districts and it is unclear if Hardman will remain at the helm when new network chiefs are announced Nov. 12. Regardless of any possible change, Sanchez said that Otis was going to launch the Saturday program.
Currently, there are 23 elementary schools in the Fulton Network but beginning Tuesday, as result of the districtwide reorganization, Fulton Network will be dissolved and become part of Network 6.
Bordered by North Avenue to the north, Western to the west, Bridgeport Avenue to the south and Halsted Street to the east, Network 6 would have 38 schools and include high schools, too.
After the LSC meeting, Otis Elementary School Assistant Principal Luz Caraballo said she was "curious to see" if students were able to get to classes on Saturday.
"I overheard one parent sigh and say that Saturday is the only day to sleep in or get errands done, with Sunday being a church day," Caraballo said. She said that there were "a lot of working families" at Otis, which serves 640 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Some 185 of Otis' students are new to the school after having transferred at the start of the year from Peabody School, 1444 W. Augusta Blvd, which was closed by CPS in June.
Susana Salgado, one of three parents in attendance at the meeting, thought the Saturday school program was a good idea. Another parent, Carmen Gonzalez, said, "We are in transition. We need to prepare all students."
Otis Elementary School's Local School Council meets at 3 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every other month. The next meetings are Jan. 1, March 5 and May 7. For more information, visit the school's website or call 773-534-7665.