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City Workers Keep Watch on First Day of West Town Students' Safe Passage

By Alisa Hauser | August 26, 2013 12:46pm
 It was a busy morning as children headed back to school and Safe Passage workers kept a close watch on students.
Back to School, Otis and Noble College Prep
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WEST TOWN —  There were many pairs of eyes watching over hundreds of Chicago Public School children and teenagers as they returned to public and charter schools in the city's West Town neighborhood Monday.

While standing in line to purchase orange juice at Noble Pantry, a convenience store on the southwest corner of Walton and Noble streets, Marcus Bradley, 16, a junior at Noble Street College Prep joked to his friends that "the man in black" outside the pantry might be his new Russian language teacher.

It turned out the man in a black suit is Michael Nardello, an employee in the city's Department of Family and Social Services.

Nardello was posted at the busy corner, which is a passage way for students going to the charter high school at 1010 Noble St. as well those making a longer trek to James Otis Elementary School at 525 N. Armour St., about five blocks south.

Otis Elementary School is a CPS ''welcoming school'' for former students of Peabody School, one of 50 schools that CPS closed in June.

At Chicago and Noble Street, Matt Smith, a spokesman for the Department of Family and Social Services, said about 120 employees — including deputies, program heads and financial personnel like Nardello who don't have contact with the public — were augmenting 11 safe passage workers, who were posted one block west on Augusta Boulevard.

"It was a good first morning ... actually quite fun, but busy," Smith said.

At Otis Elementary School, parents and teachers expressed optimism for the new year, which brings an additional 200 students to Otis, upping the total student body to around 650.

Young Mi Kim, a Special Ed teacher, said that she doesn't have her list of students yet because all of the students start in general education on the first day before they transfer to the Special Ed classrooms.

"So far it's going pretty well. We are planning our schedules and the kids are excited," said Kim.

In her fifth year of teaching at Otis, Kim said she had 18 students on her case load the previous school year and imagines it will be "probably more" with the new students that transferred from Peabody.

Lisa Lang, a veteran teacher from Peabody and one of nine teachers from Peabody hired to teach at Otis, said the school, "had to shift around a lot of classrooms to make space as a receiving school so teachers are sharing space or in smaller spaces."

Lang said the principal and assistant principal at Otis are "very, very nice.

"It will be a process for everyone in the Otis building but like I said, everyone is working together," Lang said.

Standing outside the school, Sandra Roman said she'd just dropped off her seventh grade son Jason Roa, who told her he is excited to meet the incoming students from Peabody and "make new friends."

Olga Valencia, 42, the parent of a second and first grader at Otis, was leaving the school armed with a school supply list.

Valencia said her children, who previously attended Peabody, are adjusting to Otis.

"They like it [so far], the teachers are good and everything seems very organized," Valencia said.

Valencia drives about 30 minutes from the Gage Park neighborhood to bring her children to school and said "there's not much difference" in the commute from last year.

Meanwhile, back at Peabody School, there was a blank sign where school announcements used to be and an empty lot devoid of activity.

A woman who lives across the street from Peabody said it's the first time in over 30 years she has not seen students in front of the school on the first day.

"My grandchildren went to that school," said the woman, who asked not to be named. "It's sad."

She said her grandchildren transferred to Brentano Elementary School in Logan Square rather than attend Otis.

About 200 of Peabody's 266 students transferred to Otis, sources said.