LINCOLN SQUARE — As she starts her first year of teaching at McPherson Elementary, some of Maria Jordan's students will look awfully familiar — she was their kindergarten teacher last year at Trumbull Elementary.
Jordan is one of four teachers and 80 to 100 students making the transition from the shuttered Trumbull to McPherson, an official "welcoming school" in CPS parlance.
"It's been surprisingly easy," she said of the move. "The administration's been very supportive."
A new teacher support group has helped acclimate Jordan to McPherson's procedures and provided important information like where to find the bathrooms. One new colleague even secured a coveted bean-shaped table for Jordan's classroom.
"Every teacher has asked, 'How're you doing?' and then checked up on me," she said.
"As nervous as I was, I've been very, very happy. And I loved Trumbull. But when I see what's going on here ... I'm very proud to be a part of it. This is a place I would bring my kids to."
"It's a really friendly school," said Kim Silver, president of Friends of McPherson, the school's nonprofit fundraising arm. "Kids are going to feel welcome inside the school because it's a welcoming place."
McPherson itself was on an early list of schools being considered for closure by CPS, judged as "under-utilized."
"We had some room to grow," said Silver. "We're not worried" about making space for more students.
Herself the parent of a kindergartner enrolled at McPherson this year, Silver said it's time to put aside the chaos of the past year.
"It's less about CPS craziness and more about the education my kid's going to get at this great school," she said.
At the end of the 2012-13 school year, McPherson held a mixer for Trumbull families, and on Saturday a back-to-school picnic provided another opportunity to bring together parents, students and staff of the blended McPherson/Trumbull community.
"I want them to know that we are a caring school. We will care for their children," said principal Carmen Mendoza.
Of the incoming Trumbull students, approximately "30ish" are from Trumbull's autism program. McPherson had a similar program, which it gladly expanded, Mendoza said.
"I've been here 28 years. Change is always a constant, change is always here. It all depends on the quality of people you have in your building. You have to work together when there's any kind of change," she said. "I have a staff, I tell you, they have just done everything."
As a welcoming school, McPherson also received a number of capital improvements courtesy of CPS over the summer: whiteboards, air conditioning, a fresh coat of paint and iPads for third- through eighth-graders. The school's bandwidth was also upgraded to accommodate the new technology, according to Mendoza.
With CPS taking care of facility enhancements, Friends of McPherson is looking for ways to provide the school with additional education resources.
"Raising money is certainly a part of what we do, but we're not a powerhouse," said Silver.
Grant writing has proven the group's forte and this year Silver is excited to announce that Common Threads — a venture of former "Oprah chef" Art Smith — will offer cooking classes to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, as well as community classes for parents.
"Our thinking is, let's look at all of the nonprofits that want to deliver services and bring them in," Silver said.
One item McPherson wasn't able to cross off its wish list: a replacement for the dirt area surrounding the school's playground. Dubbed the "mud pit" for its condition following rains, the space has become increasingly problematic with the re-introduction of recess.
"Whatever the balance is, I'm working on it," said Pawar, who attended the back-to-school picnic.
Shoring up the ward's schools has been one of Pawar's top priorities since taking office. Given the uncertainty created by CPS school closings and budget cuts, he's redoubling his efforts, focusing his Grow47 school initiative on funding advocacy.
"People are moving," he said. "I worry about it."
Pension reform and a progressive income tax are two issues he will continue pressing, he said.
"CPS has an over-reliance on property taxes and we really have to get away from that," said Pawar.
As they waited in line for hot dogs at the picnic, tossed water balloons and exploded with laughter over the sight of a clown juggling hammers while playing a harmonica, McPherson's students remained blissfully unaware of the debate over public education unfolding around them.
That's just the way the grown-ups want it.
"It'll be like any other first day," said Mendoza.