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Castellanos Students: First Day a Cinch, But Long Commute Worries Parents

By Chloe Riley | August 26, 2013 11:17am | Updated on August 26, 2013 11:22am
 On Monday's first day of school, several former Paderewski parents expressed concern over a longer commute to Castellanos Elementary. Paderewski, which had a 98 percent low-income student body, closed in May.
Castellanos Elementary: First Day of School
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LITTLE VILLAGE — After her first day at Rosario Castellanos Elementary, Robyn Ollison — a former Paderewski Elementary student — said kids in her classroom seemed active and happy and there were no issues between students from the old and new schools.

But the 11-year-old said there are "way more" students in that classroom than there were at her old school.

Paderewski was shut down in May in part because it was considered underutilized. At the time it closed, the school had 171 students.

Castellanos, by comparison, has 574 students this school year.

Science teacher Ashley Franzen — a fourth-year teacher at Castellanos — said she had about 27 students per classroom this year, down from her average class size last year.

Franzen said teachers and parents have been actively preparing all summer to receive the Paderewski families.

"I think everything went a million times better than anyone could have expected," she said. The Paderewski students "seem to be making the transition pretty well from what I've seen."

While Paderewski students may be transitioning well, several parents were bothered by the long walk down busy streets to Castellanos.

“I can’t believe this — nine blocks. I didn’t know the school was this far,” said Paderewski parent Rosetta Ollison. “I’m 50 years old. I told my daughter I feel like I’m 'bout to faint.”

Ollison, who has an 11-year-old daughter at Castellanos, works for Sam's Club and doesn’t own a car. She said none of the students her daughter used to walk to school with on their block seem to be attending Castellanos.

Parent Latrice Starks said she’ll be walking her son almost a half-hour from their home at 21st Street and Pulaski Road to Castellanos every day, then she'll embark on an hour-long commute to work.

“I have no other choice, 'cause it’s so far. The streets are so big,” said Starks, a 33-year-old home heath care worker.

Paderewski, a 98-percent low-income elementary school, closed in May due to a combination of poor test scores and low attendance, according to CPS. Students in fourth to eighth grades had the option to attend Castellanos, 2524 S. Central Park Ave., while first to third grades were routed to Lazaro Cardenas school just down the block from Castellanos.

Just before Paderewski’s closure was announced, former Principal Alicia Lewis expressed concern that the predominately African-American school was the only one in the Pilsen/Little Village network set to close. 

Lewis, who wouldn’t comment Monday morning, was on hand to help with the parent transition, as was Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd).

Muñoz, who fought to keep Paderewski open, said he thought the transition had gone smoothly so far.

“Under the circumstances, they came over pretty well,” Muñoz said. “I know both Castellanos and Cardenas had some very good meet-and-greets to try and get the families from Paderewski to come and check out the facilities and feel comfortable walking over.”

The Paderewski parents who voiced concern over the commute said they were still excited for the school year and anticipated good things from Castellanos.

“It’s OK. Walking is good, walking is good,” Paderewski parent Donnita Allen said.

Allen, 45, is unemployed. While she said she’s excited for her daughter to start eighth grade, she acknowledged many parents from Paderewski had concerns about being able to get to Castellanos to pick kids up on time.

“At the end of the day, if it had to be done, it had to be done. It was not on my call. What could I do to change it? What could my voice do to change it?”