ROGERS PARK — Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said he's proposing two Rogers Park elementary schools with declining enrollments — Kilmer and Field — to potentially merge by September 2017, and move Decatur Classical School from West Ridge into the building left vacant by Field.
The biggest reason: a 37 percent drop (or about 4,444 residents) in school-aged children living in the Rogers Park neighborhood between 2000 and 2014, Moore said.
Projections of enrollments over the next five years at Kilmer, a traditional K-8 school, and Field, a 5-8 school that lost fourth grade to New Field Elementary for the upcoming school year, reflect the decrease in elementary-aged residents in the neighborhood.
According to data from Chicago Public Schools, Field Elementary School, 7019 N. Ashland Ave., is expected to have 95 fewer students than last year, in part due to the grade loss. By 2021, the school is expected to have only 176 students — well below its "ideal" capacity of 690, by CPS standards.
Moore said the decision to move fourth grade from Field to New Field wasn't related to his idea to eventually merge Field into Kilmer.
Similarly, Kilmer Elementary, at 6700 N. Greenview Ave., is expected to drop from 702 students this fall to 583 by fall 2021, Moore said.
The plan would involve the closure of Field School and its student body being absorbed into Kilmer's.
Rather than leaving the building vacant, Field School could then be occupied by Decatur Classical Elementary School currently at 7030 N. Sacramento Ave. in West Ridge.
Decatur is a selective-enrollment public CPS school that draws high-performing students from across the city.
Last year CPS said Decatur was 2 percent shy of its "overcrowding" threshold, but the school and its Local School Council have long advocated for a larger space.
Moore said he's spoken with principals at the involved schools, as well as taken his plans to CPS head Forrest Claypool, Phil Salemi, former Network 2 chief and Jim Dispensa, a demographics manager at CPS.
The alderman said he also presented his idea to Mayor Rahm Emanuel briefly about 10 days ago.
After spending several months researching and talking the proposal over with principals and CPS officials, Moore said he was ready to bring it to the public.
On Tuesday, he emailed residents with the idea, but didn't mention the word "closure."
Moore said he hoped the shuffle would provide more opportunities to kids in the neighborhood.
"For all intents and purposes, we're not talking about closing a school," Moore told DNAinfo. "All the schools will stay open ... what it does do is rather than wait for a crisis to happen, we're trying to plan for the future.
"What we're doing is expanding educational opportunities for kids throughout the city, but particularly for kids in Rogers Park."
Rebecca Weinberg, a Rogers Park parent and school advocate, said she met with Moore and others earlier this week to learn more about the proposal.
She said her concerns mostly lay with how the merge would impact Field and Kilmer families, staffs and programming, and said she hoped CPS would consider Moore's plan with "sensitivity and careful planning."
"Closing a school is a painful process that can be even harder when a new school is coming into that space," Weinberg said. "I do not want this closing to foster feelings of division among the residents of Rogers Park. It can be far too easy to feel push aside or maligned in situations like this."
If the merger proceeds, Weinberg said she'd like to see a bigger investment in Kilmer's long-term success from CPS, like funding and training for an IB program, a librarian and a new playground and green space.
Weinberg acknowledged those requests "weren't cheap," but said the overall fate of the school and many neighborhood families rest on what becomes of local schools.
"I feel that unless additional steps are taken to ensure the best possible education for all students in Rogers Park that this proposal could leave families feeling brushed aside and unimportant, and that is the last thing we need," she said.
Moore said it was too early to know what would become of a potentially vacant Decatur school, but guessed it could be used for another neighborhood school hard up for space.
Teachers at Field Elementary would be offered the opportunity to fill other CPS vacancies, Moore said, adding that the merger would create about 17 new positions between Kilmer and Decatur.
At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 30, Moore will hold a community meeting on the proposal at Sullivan High School, 6631 N. Bosworth Ave.
If enough community support is garnered, Moore said he saw "no reason to wait" on moving ahead with presenting plans to the Board of Education before the end of the year to prepare for the transition in September 2017.
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