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Ogden School Presses Ahead with Jenner Merger

By David Matthews | September 22, 2015 6:36am | Updated on September 22, 2015 8:46am
 Rasha Elganzouri Gad, an Ogden parent opposed to a merger with Jenner Elementary, awaiting a decision from Ogden's Local School Council on Tuesday.
Rasha Elganzouri Gad, an Ogden parent opposed to a merger with Jenner Elementary, awaiting a decision from Ogden's Local School Council on Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/David Matthews

WEST TOWN — Ogden International School pushed forward Monday with its proposal to consolidate with Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts, a move that came despite a last-minute outburst from a parent against the merger.

The Local School Council governing the Downtown school unanimously approved a plan to present a more detailed proposal to the Chicago Board of Education, which is expected to hear the pitch next month, Principal Michael Beyer said. If the board approves the plan, Ogden ultimately would have until December to confirm the consolidation for it to take effect next school year.

The proposal is the product of an "exploratory committee" Beyer formed in July to address overcrowding officials expect to only worsen at Ogden's elementary school, 24 W. Walton St., amid constant Downtown development. The committee generated about 10 different ideas, but merging with Jenner, a school at 1119 N. Cleveland Ave. that enrolls far fewer students than its capacity of 1,060, was deemed "the most viable option" so far, Beyer said.

About 10 people, many of them Ogden staff, spoke ahead of Tuesday's vote in support of pursuing a merger with Jenner. But Rasha Elganzouri Gad, an Ogden parent and attorney who circulated a petition with more than 100 signatures against the merger, interrupted the School Council right before the vote, arguing parents weren't provided proper notice before the meeting and that the School Council wasn't clear about what action it was voting to take. Police even responded to the scene at Ogden's West Campus, 1250 W. Erie St., but no arrest was made.

Gad, who said she had a "valid" reason for not participating in the public comment portion of the meeting, later told media she was concerned about a merger's impact on Ogden's "quality of education." Jenner sits in the neighborhood once dedicated to the Cabrini-Green public housing projects, and despite the area's gentrification still considers 88 percent of its student body to be living in low-income households. Jenner currently has a "Level 2," or the second-lowest school rating, in CPS' five-level scale, while Ogden has a "Level 1" rating, the second highest.

"You can't just take [Ogden] and merge it into a failing school," Gad said.

The parent committee that came up with the idea proposes housing the combined school's prekindergarten through third grades at Ogden's existing Gold Coast campus. Jenner — which would be renamed "The Ogden International School at the Jenner Campus" — would teach fourth through eighth grades, and Ogden's west campus, 1250 W. Erie St., would become a high school that draws students from all over the city.

Current families would be grandfathered into the schools, but boundaries would be changed. Ogden also hopes to secure tax-increment financing money to fund a new Jenner annex. Before he voted to further pursue a merger, Ogden School Council member Howard Speizer expressed concern that the proposed plan doesn't do enough to address Ogden's west campus, a former elementary school that would be repurposed as a high school.

Though a merger has yet to be approved, Beyer said the proposal also has the support of Jenner Principal Robert E. Croston Jr.; Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose ward oversees Jenner; and Herald "Chip" Johnson, the chief of the CPS network that includes Ogden, Jenner and other schools.

Despite that reinforcement, Beyer sent an email to parents before Monday's meeting saying he "clearly could have done a better job" communicating the proposed merger. The school will now host bimonthly meetings starting Sept. 28 to address overcrowding, and that all "detailed proposals," not just a merger with Jenner, will be considered moving forward. Beyer said he is meeting Tuesday with Janice Jackson, CPS' Chief Education Officer, on the topic.

"I am pleased that the Ogden community came out in support," Beyer said after Monday's meeting. "But I'm genuinely concerned about parent concerns ... I don't want any parent to feel left out."

In Other News: More School Cuts Expected

Monday also marked the 10th school day for Ogden, which despite overcrowding at its Gold Coast campus is about 70 students shy of CPS' enrollment projection for this school year. That means Ogden will be expected to cut $400,000 more from its budget this year, though Beyer said he will make a "last-ditch" plea to CPS to keep some of the funding, which the district doles out to schools based on meeting enrollment projections.

Beyer said the school has already outlined about $300,000 in new cuts by eliminating an unfilled position, not replacing a history teacher who recently moved to the Latin School of Chicago, and letting go a teacher assistant.

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