UPTOWN — Uplift Community High School is not the only predominately black and low-income school facing steep budget cuts this year, but teachers say the massive cuts have brought a sense of instability and loss to students and staff.
The $3.96 million budget that the Chicago Board of Education approved for Uplift this school year shrunk the school's funds by about $883,000. The budget reduction meant the elimination of nine teacher positions and 10 support personnel at Uplift, 900 W. Wilson Ave.
Teachers said they are now teaching more subjects — and out of their specialized content areas.
"For example, I teach three geometry classes but now I also have two of what's called 'Uplift Empowerment classes,' which are college readiness classes," geometry teacher Derrick Bullie said. "It's something I don't mind teaching, but you know, now it just kind of diverts a little away from my core subject."
Bullie added: "In years past I focused on getting the kids ready in math and you had teachers who are more specialized in those Uplift Empowerment classes."
A teacher with seven years under her belt at Uplift, which has a little more than 350 students, said "the scheduling for students has become very difficult," particularly for students taking some of the most challenging courses at the school.
"It used to be that if a kid wanted to take an Advanced Placement class, there might be two for that subject throughout the day, now there's only one," said the teacher, who was concerned for her job security and asked to remain anonymous.
The school also lost its band teacher, whose position wasn't filled when he took another job. Now the music teacher teaches band, too. Librarian Cynthia Armstrong was also laid off — and not replaced. Teachers said there's no system set up for students to check out books yet.
Assistant Principal Latasha Geverola was one casualty of the cuts. She's since been hired as the International Baccalaureate coordinator at Oscar DePriest Elementary School in Austin.
Bullie said Geverola was "an awesome, awesome asset to the building," who did a lot of the administrative legwork at Uplift and partnered with Principal Stephanie Moore to play "good cop/bad cop," with students.
"If students didn't feel comfortable talking to the principal, they could talk to Geverola," Bullie said.
Biology teacher Karen Zaccor said Geverola "really had her finger on the pulse of the school," and that both teachers and students looked to her for help.
"A lot of people feel a personal sense of loss," Zaccor said.
The loss of history teacher Reginald Grigsby, one of the few African-American male teachers at the school, was also upsetting, Bullie said.
"You lose an African American male who is very impactful with those African American male students — you can imagine how devastated those kids are," said Bullie, who is black.
"If you think about a demographic that's not used to consistency outside of school, not used to stability … When you lose staples like that, what does that do to a kid's emotional framework who is coming from an unstable environment at home to what they think is a stable environment at school?"