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West Loop's Jam-Packed Skinner West School Will Be Expanded, Sources Say

By Stephanie Lulay | July 5, 2016 9:46pm
 Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) says he has been in serious conversations with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to expand overcrowded Skinner West Elementary School in the West Loop. 
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) says he has been in serious conversations with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to expand overcrowded Skinner West Elementary School in the West Loop. 
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dnainfo/Stephanie Lulay

NEAR WEST SIDE — Mayor Rahm Emanuel and key CPS leaders are expected to announce plans to expand overcrowded Skinner West Elementary School in the West Loop. 

The West Loop school's expansion, and plans to make William H. Brown Elementary a STEM school, will be announced Wednesday night, according to sources familiar with the projects. 

Emanuel, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) and other top leaders are expected to meet with Skinner West and Brown Local School Councils to break the news. 

Under new plans at Brown, the school will focus on a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics curriculum, add teachers and improve the school building, a source said. 

Last week, DNAinfo Chicago reported that a Skinner West expansion could be in the works. But Burnett said at the time that he wouldn't sign off on an expansion until a plan was in place to provide other benefits for West Side CPS schools in his ward.

"In order for me to do something at Skinner School with me closing schools on the West Side, I have to get something for the West Side schools first," Burnett said last week.

Part selective-enrollment school, part neighborhood school, Skinner West is bursting at the seams, parents said last week. Class sizes have swelled to 40 students in some cases, parents report. 

Fadi Matalka, who serves on Skinner's Local School Council and has a daughter at the school, said that school had made a number of cuts in an effort to address overcrowding. 

At the direction of CPS, the school cut a program that allowed classical students' siblings automatic enrollment at the school. Then, the number of classical classes was cut, making way for more neighborhood classes. 

Skinner West leaders also moved classes into science labs and cut a tuition-based preschool program for 3-year-olds and a preschool program for children with autism to allow more space for other classes.  

In addition to the school's main campus at 1260 W. Adams St., the school also operates a satellite campus at West Jackson Boulevard and South Aberdeen Street.

While expansion into the kindergarten building has helped address overcrowding, more classes — including two first-grade classes — are being moved to the satellite campus. 

According to a report released in January, Skinner West had 1,042 students enrolled and was at 120 percent capacity, which CPS categorized as "efficient," not "overcrowded." Schools measured at 121 percent capacity were labeled as "overcrowded" in the report. 

Armando Chacon, a Skinner LSC member and real estate agent, said earlier this month that a Skinner expansion was the neighborhood's "No. 1 need." 

"It supersedes everything else — a library, a field house, a community center. We've got to expand Skinner school," Chacon said. 

More families are expected to move into the red-hot West Loop, too, said Chacon, who also serves as president of the West Central Association. Hundreds of new family-sized condo units are expected to come online in the next two years alone, with more being approved. 

Skinner was rebuilt in 2009 with the help of TIF funding to add a neighborhood component to the school. 

Last month, the Chicago Board of Education bought a vacant building in order to expand South Loop Elementary School in the South Loop. 

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