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First Day of School in Uptown: Overcrowding Fears Overwrought

By Adeshina Emmanuel | August 26, 2013 12:05pm | Updated on August 26, 2013 8:22pm
 Monday was the first day of school.
First Day of School in Uptown
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UPTOWN — Overcrowding was a top concern among parents dropping their kids off for school at Uptown "welcoming schools" Monday morning, but by the afternoon many parents said it wasn't an issue.

After school let out Monday afternoon at Joseph Brennemann Elementary School, Uptown resident Gladys Lymore, 65, and her granddaughter, 9-year-old Tiara Lynch, waited for the No. 78 Montrose bus at the corner of Clarendon and Montrose, by the vacant Cuneo Memorial Hospital building

Lymore was satisfied with class sizes.

"I was looking for if the classrooms were crowded, and her classroom is not crowded, there's not even 30 in there," Lymore said

Jahmu Johnson, 51, an Uptown resident who recently moved to the neighborhood from the south suburbs, has a 10-year-old son, Shango, in the fifth grade at John T. McCutcheon Elementary School. Johnson was worried the classes might be too crowded.

But Shango said there were a couple more than 20 students in his classroom, easing his father's concerns about class sizes, which parents have feared would top 30 at some schools.

CPS said McCutcheon would be enrolling about 100 students from closed Lyman Trumbull Elementary School in Andersonville and have about 500 students.

Uptown father Andre Thomas, 32, was walking his 6-year-old daughter Avaea Thomas to her first day of first grade at Mary Courtenay Elementary School, 4425 N. Beacon Ave. Monday morning. Courtenay merged with the former Joseph Stockton Elementary School, combining student bodies and teachers, though a few Stockton teachers were laid off.

A smiling Avaea, whose favorite subject is art, said she was "happy," to start school and was excited at the prospect of so many new faces in the building, which now enrolls about 650 students, 150 more than last year. Her father, however, was worried about overcrowding and waiting to see what final class sizes will be.

"It's harder to teach 40 kids than 20," he said.

But after school Monday, several Courtenay students said their class sizes were not much more than 20.

Uptown parent Rachel Carbonu, like many other area parents sending their students from closing schools to receiving schools, doesn't know exactly what to expect from the 2013-2014 school year — but she's trying to stay positive.

In May, the Chicago Board of Education voted to shutter Graeme Stewart Elementary School, where her autistic 13-year-old son Jason had been a student for seven years. Carbonu, 38, waited with Jason outside Brennemann Monday for his first day of school with "mixed feelings." She's concerned about her son adjusting to a new environment, she said.

"I am worried because he is autistic and they have their own ways, but hopefully he will adjust," she said.

Camille Castro and her shy 5-year-old son Steven were waiting outside McCutcheon for Steven's first day of kindergarten.

Castro said teachers and staff have proven kind and helpful to her and her son. She also noted that they walked east down West Ainslie Avenue to get to the school at 4865 N. Sheridan Road, rather than using West Lawrence Avenue, in an attempt to avoid walking down Sheridan as much as possible.

The intersection of Sheridan and Lawrence is a known crime hotspot where eight people were shot in June.

When Castro heard reports that a car possibly linked to a gang-related shooting along a "Safe Passage," route in Uptown last week was discovered in front of McCutcheon after the shooting, she had second thoughts about enrolling her son at the school, Castro said.

"When I originally read that in the newspaper, I was kind of hesitant," Castro said. "But I guess, you know, we just have to pray about it. I think in every area there's always going to be an area that makes you go, 'Wow, I don't really want to walk through there.' But overall, it's pretty open and there's a lot of security. I feel safe in the path that I take."

There was a heavy police presence at the corner of Sheridan and Wilson Monday morning and afternoon, where the shooting happened last week, as well as at Lawrence and Sheridan.

Safe Passage workers were greeting passersby and keeping an eye out, and Ald. James Cappleman (46th) greeted students at Wilson and Sheridan on their way to school in the morning.