ENGLEWOOD — Dina Everage said she realized she is the new kid on the block, so on Friday she walked through the neighborhood to introduce herself to residents.
The 43-year-old principal of Daniel Wentworth Elementary School is gearing up for the first day of school on Monday. She's not just inheriting new teachers, but students as well.
After Chicago Public Schools closed John Altgeld Elementary, 1340 W. 71st St., and dozens of other underutilized schools this year, Wentworth moved from 6950 S. Sangamon St. into the Altgeld building, which was renamed Wentworth.
"When we open our doors Monday we're looking at having 652 students. The students from Altgeld are new to me and I am new to them," explained Everage. "But I did not want to be new to parents when they drop off their kids, so I decided to go meet them."
She was joined through her neighborhood walk by parents, school staff and Aldermen Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Latasha Thomas (17th) whose ward includes Wentworth. However, Sawyer said due to redistricting by the City Council, Wentworth would soon be located in his ward.
"It's a technical thing but I came to walk the streets because Principal Everage invited me," Sawyer said.
Thomas, who is chairman of the City Council's Education Committee, said she wanted to tour the area to ensure that Safe Passage routes are presentable.
"Good thing I came because I did not like what I saw," Thomas said.
What she and a group of 30 people on the tour saw was a vacant lot at 7039 S. Ada St. filled with beer bottles, cans and trash.
"I don't want my babies to walk pass this lot everyday if it is going to look like this," Everage said. "This makes no sense that this lot looks like this. I can tell by the amount of trash that it has looked this way for a while."
And before Thomas, whose ward includes the lot, could pull out her cell phone from her purse, Sawyer was on the phone with the Department of Streets and Sanitation.
"I don't know if it will get done by Monday but I placed a call to request that it be cleaned up immediately," he added.
Most residents seemed excited when Everage knocked on their doors to introduce herself.
She even stopped inside a convenience store where she said many kids go to buy chips and pop in the morning for breakfast.
"Junk food is not breakfast. No wonder some kids has a slow start at school. Eating unhealthy foods so early in the morning knocks them off track from learning," said Everage, who was among 134 principals who received a bonus this week from CPS for help improving their schools academic performance. Bonuses ranged from $5,000 to $20,000.
This was the second time Everage, who received $10,000, received a bonus for her leadership.
"The last time I shared my bonus with my staff because they truly are the soldiers whose efforts sometimes go unrecognized," Everage added. "I plan to do the same with my bonus this year."
Yusef Muhammad is the owner of the store and after briefly meeting with Everage, Thomas and Sawyer he agreed not to allow Wentworth students inside his store before 9 a.m.
"Not a problem, Ald. Thomas. I want to work with the community in keeping kids safe and productive," Muhammad said.
Inside the school movers were busy unloading boxes from trucks while teachers decorated their classrooms.
Chaundi Intoe, who teaches kindergarten, is among one-third of the staff from Altgeld Everage said she retained. Another one-third of her staff came from Wentworth while new staff makes up the remainder.
"I want my classroom to reflect happiness when students arrive Monday," Intoe said as she decorated the walls with paintings. "I am probably as excited as some of the kids that school is starting. I miss my kids."
And fellow kindergarten teacher Kimberly Robinson followed Everage from the "old" Wentworth school to its new location.
"Nothing brings me greater joy than teaching. I love being a teacher and I can't wait to see their smiling faces as they enter the classroom," said Robinson.