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'Principal Envy' Sparked Schurz Field Proposal, Administrator Admits

By Patty Wetli | March 11, 2015 9:45am | Updated on March 12, 2015 8:39am
 Schurz principal Dan Kramer met with neighbors to press reset on the school's relationship with the community following soccer field dust-up.
Schurz principal Dan Kramer met with neighbors to press reset on the school's relationship with the community following soccer field dust-up.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

IRVING PARK — Those looking for a scapegoat in the dust-up over the contentious Schurz Field plan can blame Lane Tech.

The school's proposal to build a regulation-size soccer field on the Schurz campus at 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave. would have required the closure of a portion of Waveland Avenue, divided the community and became a political hot potato in the 45th Ward election.

Schurz High School Principal Dan Kramer on Monday appeared at the March meeting of the Old Irving Park Association to declare "mea culpa" and press reset on the school's relationship with its neighbors.

"I just am hopeful we can turn the volume down on the argument," Kramer said. "I'm genuinely here to apologize. I want to start again."

The impetus behind the soccer field was a simple case of "principal envy," he said.

Kramer, who lives in the Uptown/Edgewater area, said his commute to and from work frequently takes him past Lane Tech College Prep High School, 2501 W. Addison St.

"I think, 'I want that for my kids,'" he said of Lane's sports facilities.

His mistake, Kramer said, was in crafting a proposal for the soccer field first and then presenting it to the community, rather than involving residents in the process from the outset.

With the closure of Waveland now off the table, Kramer said he's still interested in developing the field adjacent to the school, this time with community input.

His aim is to create an outdoor space that benefits both Schurz and neighbors, and serves as a bridge between the two, Kramer said.

Though Schurz is Old Irving Park's neighborhood high school, it's been decades since it was considered the school of choice by area families.

"I've got wonderful kids and we've got to set up ways for you to meet them," said Kramer.

He recently sent a bunch of ROTC students out into the neighborhood to shovel sidewalks, which went a long way toward creating goodwill.

"All these people were calling [students] over and saying 'hello,'" he said.

If there is a silver lining to be found in the argument over Schurz Field, it's that the community is talking about Schurz again.

Kramer took the opportunity to tout the school's advanced placement classes, International Baccalaureate program and rising graduation rate, noting that Schurz' most recent valedictorian received a full-ride scholarship to the University of Chicago.

"We still definitely have a way to go ... but we are trending in the right direction," said Kramer.

Strengthening ties between the community and Schurz — particularly when the majority of neighbors don't have a child enrolled at the school — was the topic of the meeting's other guest speaker.

Amy Williamson is co-founder of Friends of Amundsen, which supports a neighborhood high school that was similarly disconnected from its Lincoln Square community.

"We're really a helper to the principal," Williamson said. "Our role is to be her cheerleader and her helper."

The group's most important function is talking to neighbors, clearing up misconceptions and highlighting "what's going on in the school that's good," she said.

A Friends of Schurz group could serve the same function, she said.

Selfishly, bolstering a neighborhood high school is "one of the best things your can do for your property values," said Williamson.

From a more altruistic perspective, "They're kids in my city, they're going to be the adults in my city, and I'd like them to grow up to be great people," she said.

Williamson's presence at the meeting was designed to demonstrate what creating and sustaining a Friends of Schurz would entail, according to Anna Sobor, president of Old Irving Park Association.

"No one's going to hand you a beautiful high-performing school," Sobor said. "You have to build it yourself."

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