The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

'Growing Pains' Ease at CPS' Largest Welcoming School: Wicker Principal

By Alisa Hauser | December 18, 2013 8:45am
 Jose de Diego Community Academy at 1313 N. Claremont Ave. in Wicker Park.
Jose de Diego Community Academy
View Full Caption

WICKER PARK — The principal of Chicago Public School's largest welcoming school has acknowledged there were "growing pains" at the start of the school year that included the resignation of several teachers followed by the retirement of two others.

"We had growing pains, like a blended family coming together to make one nuclear family," said Alice Vera, principal of Jose de Diego Community Academy at 1313 N. Claremont Ave.

At local school council meeting Tuesday, Vera said seven teachers from a staff of about 70 voluntarily resigned from their positions within the first 20 days of the school year, while two others retired.

All of the teachers, who taught Kindergarten, first, fourth and seventh grades have been replaced, Vera said.

In an interview with DNAinfo Chicago in November, Vera had said size of the school was overwhelming to a few of the teachers who "thought the fit wasn't right for them."

"They came from a school of 200 or 300 students to a school with over 700 students," Vera said of some of the former teachers. Those instructors had previously taught at neighborhood schools in Humboldt Park that were among 49 schools the Chicago Board of Education voted to close at the end of the last year school year.

Keiana Barrett, a spokeswoman for CPS said, "Transitions can come with their share of anxiety. Now several months in we're receiving some positive feedback. We had teachers in the pipeline that were ready and able to fill those positions [at Diego]."

Located just east of North and Western avenues in Wicker Park, Jose de Diego spans one city block in length and currently has 900 students in Pre-K through 8th grade.

According to CPS, 172 of the school's 900 students transferred in at the start of the year from Von Humboldt at 2620 W. Hirsch St., another 40 from Duprey which shared the same address as Von Humboldt, and three students came from Lafayette at 2714 W. Augusta Blvd.

The school currently has "a nice mix of teachers" from the closed Humboldt Park schools and returning Diego teachers, Vera said.

The largest welcoming school in CPS, Diego received $7 million dollars in facility upgrades as a welcoming school, including  Americans with Disabilities Act investments, air-conditioning in every classroom, a new art room, a new playground, a child-parent center for cooking classes and other activities, a learning garden, as well as an upgraded science room and computer lab.

Other investments made by CPS include white boards in every classroom, iPads for all 3rd to 5th grade students and laptops for all pupils in grades 6 through 8.

The addition of 215 students from the three closing schools has been greeted with mixed reactions from some parents.

While waiting to pick up his his daughter, a fourth grader, parent Josh Bryant, said in an interview that the girl is "apparently she's not fond of it."

"She's not happy and just says the kids [who transferred in] are mean," Bryant said.

Lakeisha Harwell, a Humboldt Park resident whose children, a third and fourth grader who previously attended Von Humboldt, said the closure of Von Humboldt "was shocking but you just have to adapt."

Maria Roman, a grandmother picking up her sixth grade grandson, said there's been more fights among students this year than the year prior.

"School was real nice before. Nobody used to fight like that," Roman said, citing an incident her grandson told her about where a teacher was allegedly threatened by "a little boy that told her he wanted to hit her in the face."

Roman added that Vera is "a good principal, doing the right thing" and there's just "too much disrespect" on the part of some students.

Vera denied that students from Von Humboldt are meaner. No students have been expelled, she added.

Any transition requires an adjustment with new polices, Vera said.

Rated a "Level 3" (probation) status school by CPS in the latest performance policy rankings released in September, the school has been on probationary status for the past four consecutive school years, since 2010-2011.

Diego is "an IB pre-candidate school," meaning that it is in the process of applying for its International Baccalaureate candidacy for its sixth through eighth grades classrooms. 

An IB coordinator and IB language teacher were recently hired, and IB books were purchased as part of an IB program budget, Vera said Tuesday.

The transition to IB means more staff changes in the pipeline.

At the end of this year, eight positions at Diego "will be redefined to IB positions," Barrett said, adding that incumbent teachers will have opportunities to reapply for those positions and will go through IB training.

Jose de Diego's next LSC meeting is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. on Feb 11 at the school, 1313 N. Claremont Ave.