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West Town's Otis School Prepares to Welcome Former Peabody Students

By Alisa Hauser | August 21, 2013 12:23pm
 West Town's Otis Elementary School will absorb around 200 students and nine teachers from Peabody School when school starts back up again Monday. Peabody was closed at the end of the 2012-2013 School Year.
Otis School Teachers Prepare to Welcome Peabody Students
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WEST TOWN — With Chicago Public School students scheduled to return to classrooms Monday, a veteran teacher from Otis Elementary School said he was feeling optimistic about the new year and big changes it will bring to the school.

Otis School, 525 N. Armour St., will absorb about 200 students from Peabody School and nine of the shuttered school's teachers.

"Everything will be fine here. I have concerns for other schools, but this was a good mesh, with Peabody and Otis. Almost everyone [from Peabody] got a job" at Otis, sixth-grade teacher Michael Flynn said.

Otis had 450 students at the end of the 2012-13 school year in June and will add about 200 from Peabody, Flynn said.

Flynn, who has taught at Otis since 1997 and is the school's Chicago Teachers Union delegate, said nine of the 11 eligible tenured teachers from Peabody were hired at Otis. 

Flynn said general classroom sizes at Otis in the coming year will be in the mid-20s and have "remained stable" with the exception of special education, which will see an increase in class sizes.

Though billed as a "World Language Academy" by CPS, Otis for at least the near future will no longer offer Latin or Italian, just Spanish, Flynn said.

According to a current CPS listing for Otis, 75 percent of the student population are Hispanic, 30 percent are "limited English learners," and 93 percent are low-income.

A school clerk at Otis said the majority of Peabody's 266 students transferred to Otis, with Lozano School at 1501 N. Greenview Ave. in Wicker Park being the second most popular choice for displaced students.

Otis' music program is transferring to a different room in the basement that had not previously been used as a classroom, while an autism classroom that was previously on the school's main floor is taking over the former music classroom, Otis music teacher Monica Romano said.

The new basement music room has two windows, one of which has a window air conditioning unit in it, and Romano said she plans to buy a rug to make the space more inviting.

In previous years, every student at Otis took music instruction, and Romano said she wants to try to do that this year with 650 students.

"It will be a scheduling challenge, but music is important for all kids," Romano said.

"I'm grateful we have a room" for music, she added.

While two of the three languages at Otis have been cut, Romano said art, which previously was not offered at Otis, has been added for the upcoming school year.

Romano and Flynn said they were unsure Tuesday if there would be a room dedicated for art.

In addition to concerns about rooms, the distance between the schools was spotlighted in an emotionally charged public hearing in February, when an eighth-grade student testified that he would be walking 7½ blocks to Otis if Peabody were to close.

At a rally in March, Peabody parents expressed concerns about sex offenders and CTA fares.

Otis School is located six-tenths of a mile from Peabody School, and the distance was not deemed far enough away for CPS to provide busing from Peabody to Otis.

In July, CPS released its Safe Passage" plan for Otis, which will include a maximum of 12 "community watchers" who will be "posted along key safe routes for children walking to school."

Cindy Wilder, director of human resources from Prologue, the vendor selected by CPS to recruit and hire safe passage workers for Otis and four other CPS schools, confirmed Wednesday that "community watchers" are being hired.

Prologue is a nonprofit organization that operates two charter high schools.

Wilder said she has identified the Safe Passage workers who will receive $10 per hour for part-time positions, but is awaiting background checks on them.  

"We need fingerprints on workers and can't put them on streets until background checks are done," Wilder said.