OLD TOWN — Manierre Elementary principal Derrick L. Orr wore the same tie Monday morning that he wore in April when he successfully pleaded to Chicago Public Schools to "give us a chance" and save his school from closing.
Orr had a bounce in his step Monday as he welcomed students and parents by name outside the Old Town school, which which was one of just four spared from the final list of 54 slated for closure.
"I feel extremely, extremely good," Orr said as the school year kicked off.
It's an important year for the school and for Orr, as he hopes to prove that CPS made the right call in giving Manierre second chance.
"We’ve always set our intentions on being here," Orr said. "That was from day one to make sure our teachers were ready and prepared to go."
Just last week, Orr received a $5,000 performance bonus for raising test scores in math and closing the school's achievement gap.
The percentage of students meeting or exceeding the ISAT standard in math rose from 25.4 in 2012 to 33.1 last year.
Those rising scores came amid turmoil within the school as parents, teachers and students attended countless meetings and marches to keep it from closing.
One staff member of the school said it had been "miserable" working while under the threat of closure.
"With the growth that we had last year, even with all the challenges of last year, we wanted to make sure that we could keep pushing through so that they wouldn’t go back and use that data they used last year as an excuse of why we didn’t succeed," Orr said before class Monday.
Parents dropping there kids off at 1420 N. Hudson Ave. Monday morning were relieved that didn't have to walk down a newly created Safe Passage route across gang lines, as originally was proposed.
"This area is known for gang-banging," said Gregory Dukes, a parent of a third grader and kindergartner at Manierre. "I feel safer with my kids coming over here."
A large portion of the school's approximately 350 students live directly across the street from the school in the subsidized 628-unit Marshall Fields Garden Apartments.
"Most of the people are rooted in the community," Dukes said.
Manierre parent Shereena Allison was heavily involved in the fight to keep the school open.
On Monday she finally felt the fruits of her labor.
"It feels safe, wonderful and it's a relief," the mother of two said.
Allison's son started kindergarten at Manierre Monday and her daughter was entering seventh grade.
Allison said she plans on continuing the push against CPS closings and budget cuts to ensure her children receive a solid education.
"We have to be on our toes because anything can happen," she said after dropping her kids at school. "That's why I'm still fighting for the schools because we don't want anything to come as a surprise."
While many CPS principals were forced to fire staff members due to budget cuts, Manierre was able to add a teacher and two assistants for 2013-2014, according to Orr.
The funding for those positions came from outside sources.
"I had a lot of my external partners that we were able to work with," Orr said.
The existence of those external partners, such as Target, Erikson Institute, DePaul University and the University of Michigan, who all help fund programs at Manierre, was a big reason the school was saved from closing, according to a CPS source.
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett also cited planned housing developments in the area, which will raise enrollment, and the impressive involvement of Manierre parents who fought for the school.
"I'm happy that my school is still open, but at the same time I have to still see [if the mayor is] sticking to what he said he was going to do and provide for our schools," Allison said.