NORWOOD PARK — Taft High School students and teachers were "riding high" Tuesday after the news that the neighborhood high school ranked among the best schools in the city.
Taft High School, 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., achieved a Level One quality rating from Chicago Public Schools, district officials said.
"We've got good things going on here," said Principal Mark Grishaber, who announced the news to the students over the intercom Tuesday morning, prompting cheers and applause. "We're riding high. We turned the neighborhood, and now its an avalanche."
Level One schools are just a notch below Level One-Plus, the highest rating within CPS. Level One schools are "high performing" institutions and are "a good school choice," according to CPS guidelines.
Local School Council Chairwoman Lisa Schwieger said being a Level One school is a "very significant achievement" for Taft.
"I've known for quite some time that wonderful things are happening at Taft," Schwieger said.
Schwieger praised Grishaber, hired in 2014, with "raising the bar" of expectations for teachers, students and staff at Taft.
"His leadership has been powerful," Schwieger said. "There is no doubt he has increased the rigor across the board at Taft."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2012 decision to name Taft a "wall-to-wall" International Baccalaureate program played a big role in Taft's success, as did the Local School Council's decision to fund test preparation programs, Grishaber said.
"I will take 0.5 percent of the credit," Grishaber said, dividing the rest among the teachers.
Grishaber said his biggest achievement has been convincing students to students take responsibility for their academic performance and become part of the school community, Grishaber said.
Even as Taft's academic ranking improves, it remains the most crowded high school in Chicago, with 3,230 students studying in a building designed for 2,184 pupils, according to enrollment data released this week by district officials.
"We're like a good restaurant — a little crowded," Grishaber said, laughing.
District officials ranked Taft at Level Two-Plus in 2014, the lowest possible rank schools could achieve and still be considered in "good standing."
In 2013, Taft missed Level One — under a different system — by one point.
At the time of Tuesday's announcement, Local School Council members were in the process of crafting a plan to boost the school's ranking with a deadline of next year, Schwieger said.
The district's top rating is Level One-Plus, which is defined by district officials as a "nationally competitive school with opportunity to share best practices with others." It is typically attained at the secondary level only by the district's selective enrollment high schools, according to CPS data.
The ratings are based on a number of factors, including standardized test scores, attendance rates, and graduation rates, according to district documents.
While pleased with Taft's improvement, Schwieger said it was unfair to judge the Norwood Park school on the same criteria as selective enrollment schools, which get to pick their pupils.
"It is not a fair system," Schwieger said. "But if this is going to be how we are judged, it is great to be at the top."
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