EDGEWATER — The greeting from senior Samuel Choi to Senn High School's biggest class of incoming freshman in years elicited a few laughs — and a few groans.
"Oh, it is so exciting to go back to school, right?" the 17-year-old said to a packed auditorium Thursday morning at 5900 N. Glenwood Ave.
The new students collected their class schedules, books and school IDs, preparing for classes to start on Sept. 2.
Senn has enrolled 389 freshman this year, up from 294 in 2011, while the school's total population has increased by nearly 300, to 1,330 students, said principal Susan Lofton, a stern leader who is largely credited with Senn's resurgence and recent success since she took the helm in 2010.
"In an area where there is struggle going on, this is a school that is rising and thriving," she said on Thursday. "If the community comes together, if the teachers come together, if the administration comes together, this is what can happen."
Senn was also able to hire seven new teachers as its current $8 million budget is expected to grow by "hundreds of thousands of dollars" after classes begin, Lofton said.
Last year, many neighborhood schools took big hits to their budget after Chicago Public Schools changed the way it dispersed funding. Senn lost some, but not enough to require layoffs.
In fact, Senn now employees 88 teachers and counselors, up from 70 four years ago.
District administrators took notice Thursday of the changes at Senn.
"There's something about Senn that's different than other schools," said Phil Salemi, who replaced Craig Benes this year as the school's network chief. "There's a different feel when you walk into Senn."
Mario Rossero, CPS's chief of curriculum, said Senn was an example of a "neighborhood school that is thriving."
David Prasse, vice-provost at Loyola University, which partners with Senn, explained one reason for the school's success.
"Why? Because Senn High School is known as a quality, superb city high school," he said.
Brad Ruby was at the orientation with his son, Tom, 14.
Ruby said when his son wasn't accepted to any selective enrollment schools this year, they turned to Senn. And now he says Senn might have been an even better choice than schools with established reputations of exemplary education.
"The turnaround of the school is tremendous; I think he did better" than selective enrollment schools, the 52-year-old said.
His son agreed, saying: "I'm glad I didn't get into Lane [Tech], or whatever."
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) also spoke to the incoming class.
He said he remembered speaking at orientations in years past "and seeing half of this room filled."
Principal Lofton gave a final message Thursday that applied to both her students and the school she leads.
"It's not about where you start," she said, "it's about how much you grow."
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