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2 Wicker Schools 'Underutilized' Even After Taking Kids from Closed Schools

By  Alisa Hauser and Kelly Bauer | January 6, 2016 9:55am 

 Wells High School Concrete Playing Field.
Wells High School Concrete Playing Field.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WEST TOWN —   Two Chicago Public high schools in Wicker Park and West Town are less than half full and two "welcoming" elementary schools that absorbed students from nearby shuttered schools after sweeping 2012 budget cuts are also under capacity, according to data released by CPS Tuesday.

Clemente High School, 1147 N. Western Ave. is at 24 percent capacity with 766 students, while Wells High School at 936 N. Ashland Ave. is at 33 percent capacity with 561 students. Both were labeled as "underutilized" based on a controversial CPS formula.

At an October Local School Council meeting, Wells principal Rita Raichoudhuri described Wells as "a lone wolf" surrounded by charters and said there is a false perception that charters are better than neighborhood schools.

Even though suspensions at Wells are at an all-time low, along with lowered drop-out rates, Raichoudhuri told parents that charter schools were to blame for the school's lower than expected enrollment.

Golder College Prep, 1454 W. Superior St., a charter high school which has 645 students, according to its website, and Noble Street College Prep, another charter high school at 1010 N. Noble St., which has " a little over 600" students, according to a school representative, were not included in the CPS utilization report.

Sarah Hainds, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Teachers Union, which sees the mostly-non-union charters as a threat, told DNAinfo Chicago that one of her biggest "issues" with the list released by CPS is that many charters and alternative schools in private buildings are missing from the breakdown.

"But, those are our kids and that is our money that is going to them and their private use of facilities," Hainds said. "And it still should be included in the portfolio. You can't do planning and talk about under-enrollment and everything like that when you're not including all the square footage. All square footage that taxpayer dollars go to should be included, and it's not," Hainds said.

Meanwhile, three local CPS elementary schools were considered "underutilized" by CPS, including:

• Otis Elementary School, 525 N. Armour St., which has 551 students, is at 63 percent of capacity.  During the 2012-13 school year, Otis saw a surge in enrollment from students at nearby Peabody School which closed as part of the budget cuts that shuttered 49 neighborhood schools.

• Jose de Diego, 1313 N. Claremont St., with 687 students, is at 60 percent capacity. During the 2012-13 school year, Jose de Diego was the largest CPS "welcoming" school.  The school's principal, Alice Vera, was later replaced during an ongoing CPS investigation.

• Talcott Fine Arts Academy, 1840 W. Ohio St., which has 540 students, is at 58 percent capacity.

And the good news?

Most of the elementary schools in the area are operating efficiently and one is overcrowded.

Rowe, a single-site elementary charter school operated by Northwest Settlement at 1424 N. Cleaver St. is overcrowded, with 816 students and at 124 percent of capacity.

To ease Rowe's overcrowding, last year CPS approved a $750,000 renovation to the former Peabody site at 1434 W. Augusta Blvd., which will create a second campus for Rowe.

Other neighborhood schools, such as Pritzker, Drummond, Pulaski and Sabin were considered "efficient," according to the report.

In all, 313 schools were listed as "underutilized," 229 as "efficient," and 23 as "overcrowded."  Here is the local breakdown:

Schools included in the CPS utilization report for the Wicker Park area. [CPS]