DOWNTOWN — The merging of Ogden International School and Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts would solve the overcrowding at one school and under enrollment at the other, advocates said, but some parents said Saturday that shifting kids from their current schools could lead to academic and safety issues.
Speaking at a meeting at Ogden Saturday for parents of kids at both schools, school officials laid out their reasoning for considering merging of the two schools and detailed how the process might move forward.
The idea for the merger of the two schools — separated by about five blocks — stemmed from a brainstorming session on how to address Ogden International's overcrowding, Principal Michael Beyer said.
"The question is, when are we going to address the overcrowding?" Beyer said. "Somebody said wait until it gets bad. I'm a little more proactive than that."
Beyer said a group of Ogden parents created a task force to look at the problem, including adding on to the three-year-old school in Gold Coast, leasing from somewhere nearby, auditing the home addresses of families enrolled in the school and condensing Ogden with nearby Jenner.
Merging with Jenner is still just an idea, one the school is still studying and considering, Beyer said. The school's Local School Council on Monday will vote on whether to allow the studying of the proposal to go further.
"Nothing is a done deal," Beyer said to concerned parents. "Nothing is set in stone."
The proposal has some logistical hurdles to cross and some concerns that need to be addressed. Saturday's meeting was one of the first steps in that process.
Parents had questions about how the strong academic track record at Ogden, 24 W. Dalton St., would be affected by its merger with Jenner, 1119 N. Cleveland Ave.
They also wondered what might happen to some beloved teachers and how it would be decided which students would go where. But much of the discussion revolved around safety concerns parents had about potentially sending their kids to Jenner, a school in a low-income area that used to house the Cabrini-Green housing complex.
"People buy houses to live in a certain area, send their kids to certain schools," said Deba Ghosh, economist and father of an Ogden student. "They don't buy homes so they can be involved in some experiment."
Jenner elementary resides in a neighborhood with a notorious past but a hopeful future, neighbors said. Public row houses are a block away from the school, but even closer is a housing and commercial development that will house mixed-income families, a sign of good things to come, neighbors said.
Still, the stigma around the Cabrini-Green area shined through in the meeting.
"It's very concerning for a mom to send her child to a faraway school and not be sure if they will come home," said one mom who asked not to be named.
"Nobody can speak to what will happen [in this neighborhood] in the next seven years," Ghosh said. "What we do have is history."
Other parents in favor of the merger fought against the neighborhood's perception, and told Ogden families to have an open mind.
"We shouldn't be holding these [Jenner] kids accountable for a history that is 15 years old," said Jeff Dillon.
Jenner Principal Robert Croston said the school and the area have made strides in recent years. Still, he said the problems facing Chicago will not get solved if communities don't work together.
"We have a responsibility as adults to live up to the city's reputation," Croston said. "The city has its problems. But we are doing the kids a disservice when we perpetuate stereotypes, perpetuate myths."
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