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Many Far North Side Schools Overcrowded, Others Underutilized, CPS Says

By Linze Rice | January 5, 2016 5:03pm
 Decatur Classical School in West Ridge was considered at 118 percent of capacity, two percentage points shy of
Decatur Classical School in West Ridge was considered at 118 percent of capacity, two percentage points shy of "overcrowded" by Chicago Public Schools standards.
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DNAinfo/Linze Rice

ROGERS PARK — Many Chicago Public Schools on the Far North Side either have too many, or too few, students for the size of their facility, according to data released by CPS Tuesday.

At least two of the schools, Jamieson Elementary in West Ridge and George B. Armstrong  in Rogers Park, were labeled as "overcrowded" — meaning they'd exceeded the capacity threshold applied by a controversial CPS formula.

Jamieson — which is awaiting the anticipated September opening of a $13 million annex with 16 new classrooms, an office and a lunchroom — was found to be at 121 percent of capacity. Schools between 80 and 120 percent of capacity are considered "efficient" under the CPS formula.

Armstrong, which houses 1,452 elementary students, was found to be overcrowded at 129 percent of capacity.

Five schools that were still considered efficient — Clinton, Decatur, Hayt, Rogers and Stone — were all between 105-118 percent of capacity.

Teachers and parents at Decatur — a small school with no cafeteria or music room and teachers shuffling between available classrooms — have complained for years about overcrowding in their building. The school spends $10,000 a year to rent gym space at a neighboring community center — yet CPS said it was 2 percent below the official "overcrowded" designation.

Tim McCaffrey, a Dectur parent and Local School Council member, told DNAinfo last month that CPS had acknowledged the school had overcrowding issues in the past, but said budgetary issues prevented the school from expanding or moving.

Conversely, at least five other schools were considered "underutilized" by CPS, including:

• Senn High School, which has 1,365 students and is at 77 percent of capacity

• Sullivan High School, 563 students, 53 percent

• Kilmer, 744 students, 67 percent

• Field, 300 students, 43 percent

• Gale, 381, 38 percent

In all, 313 schools were listed as "underutilized," 229 as "efficient," and 23 as "overcrowded."

UNO Rogers Park and Chicago Math and Science Academy, both charter schools, were not included on the list of schools released Tuesday — though other similar schools like Noble Charter Schools were.

But critics have said the formula used by CPS — which was used to close 50 schools in 2013 — is highly flawed and doesn't paint the full picture of what day-to-day life is like at the school.

CPS determines if schools are underutilized, efficient or overcrowded by assuming 76-77 percent of the school's total classrooms are homerooms, then multiplying that number by 30, the average number of students CPS says is in each class. Within 20 percent above or below that number is the school's ideal capacity range, according to CPS.

In 2013, Wendy Katten, a spokeswoman for public education advocacy group Raise Your Hand, and other advocates said the formula doesn't take into account how classrooms are used or the size of a school's special education population.

Some schools, like Sullivan, have special, dedicated classrooms for students with autism called "low-impact" rooms that are designed to accommodate smaller classes.

"This formula is about cramming as many kids in a building and having an arbitrary number that doesn't match the real needs or uses, in many cases, of the way the building is being utilized," Katten said.

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