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School Reaches Out to Neighborhood for Financial Support

By Patty Wetli | October 23, 2012 2:47pm | Updated on November 19, 2012 2:54pm
 A Ravenswood student participates in the door-to-door campaign. Oct. 21, 2012.
A Ravenswood student participates in the door-to-door campaign. Oct. 21, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

RAVENSWOOD — Test scores are rising at Ravenswood Elementary and the arts program has been expanded, but that progress has come at a price.

As the performing arts magnet cluster has attracted more middle-income and fewer low-income families, state and federal aid has declined by almost $200,000 annually, prompting parents to seek donations from the school's neighbors.

“We have big dreams,” said Cornelia Grumman, co-chairwoman of Friends of Ravenswood School (FORS).

The school recently hosted a national arts conference and programming has been expanded to include full-time drama, music and art.

In the four years since Principal Heather Connolly was handed the reins, the percentage of low-income students enrolled at Ravenswood — defined as those eligible for free or reduced lunch — has dropped from 82 percent to 57 percent. As a result, government funds have fallen from $457,790 to $266,288 during that time, according to Connolly's recent State of the School Address.

“With the changing demographics, we’re getting slammed,” said Grumman, who has a child enrolled in the school’s pre-K program.

At approximately 50 percent low income, state and federal assistance is completely eliminated.

Parents are being asked to plug the financial gap but Grumman noted that the school’s middle-income earners “aren’t flush” with cash or politically connected. Which is why, on a picture-perfect fall weekend, a cadre of Ravenswood supporters went door to door throughout the school’s attendance boundaries and distributed 1,200 information packets that included a fundraising appeal (and a Ghirardelli chocolate for good measure).

“You’re not going to get any money unless you ask,” Grumman said.

FORS’ goal is to raise $100,000 during the 2012-13 school year, money it will put toward new technology, sports equipment, supplies and music education for every child. Twenty-five dollars buys two new kick balls or basketballs; $1,000 covers one week of music classes for Ravenswood’s 471 students.

Those who can't afford to give money are encouraged to give of their time or donate supplies. "I think that it's very important to help the school any way we can," said Adam More, father of a Ravenswood second-grader and a sixth-grader.

Born in Deerfield and educated in North Shore schools, More made a conscious decision to live in the city and send his children to their neighborhood school.

"I think it's better for them to have diversification," he said.

Though situated on prime real estate at Montrose and Paulina, just blocks from the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ravenswood remains what Grumman calls “a hidden gem” in its own neighborhood.

“People outside the neighborhood are dying to get in,” she said.

Ingo Soeding hails from Uptown, Natalie Waechter from Albany Park and Joanne Kiley from Rogers Park. All have children who attend Ravenswood and all pounded the pavement to raise the school’s profile among parents and residents who live just blocks from the elementary school.

“There’s a select number of schools like this making a resurgence,” said Soeding, who had son Fintan in tow. “If there was a school like this in our neighborhood…if parents like Natalie had taken charge…we would have welcomed that opportunity.”

To emphasize that all neighbors have a stake in Ravenswood's continued progress — not just the parents of prospective or current students — Grumman included a letter from Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) and his Grow 47 initiative in the information packet. Grow 47 emphasizes that strong schools translate into economically strong communities for everyone.

"You have to be able to sell the school as part of the neighborhood's assets," Grumman said.