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Packed Decatur Could Move To Bigger School In Rogers Park, Add Junior High

By Linze Rice | August 17, 2016 5:23pm
 Decatur students and parents from grades 3-6 packed into the gym for an awards ceremony recently. The gym has been approved for no more than 95 occupants by the city.
Decatur students and parents from grades 3-6 packed into the gym for an awards ceremony recently. The gym has been approved for no more than 95 occupants by the city.
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DNAinfo/Linze Rice

WEST RIDGE — After years of begging for more space, Decatur Classical Elementary School in West Ridge could get a new home in Rogers Park — and add 7th and 8th grades — under a proposal from Ald. Joe Moore (49th).

Moore said he's proposing two Rogers Park elementary schools with declining enrollments — Kilmer and Field — merge by September 2017. Decatur Classical School could then move into the building left vacant by Field at 7019 N. Ashland Ave.

Decatur, at 7030 N. Sacramento Ave., is a selective-enrollment public CPS school that draws high-performing students from across the city. But it's been described as a "pressure cooker" because students have to find another school to go to for junior high before transferring yet again for high school.

Tim McCaffrey, a Decatur parent and Local School Council member, said CPS heads have acknowledged the overcrowding at the school in the past but deemed options at vacant schools like Trumbull in Andersonville and Stewart in Uptown unfit for Decatur's needs.

The school's "ideal" capacity is at about 240 students, but enrollment is currently at 282. CPS predicts a steady climb to 313 students in 2018, before beginning to fall back down to the 282-range.

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. 

The proposal offered by Moore could potentially "solve all" the issues they've been fighting to fix, McCaffrey said, adding the LSC had not yet met to discuss the idea. Members will meet 7 p.m. Thursday at the school.

"My own personal view is that is could be a really positive thing," McCaffrey said. "I certainly understand that the folks who are there are going to potentially go through a big change and I respect and understand their feelings on it. From the perspective of ... what we've been struggling with in our community, it reflects a hopeful positive, if it turns out to happen."

McCaffrey said he first learned about the proposal earlier this summer. 

Since students at Decatur come from across Chicago, McCaffrey said parents began reaching out to their respective aldermen and representatives to fight for more space. 

One of those to respond was Moore, McCaffrey said, who asked Decatur's leadership if they were interested in moving to Rogers Park should a location become available. 

McCaffrey said he learned more details about Moore's proposal "relatively recently," including the details about taking over the Field building.

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. 

The merger would create about 17 new staff positions between Kilmer and Decatur, Moore said, with Decatur being able to add more classrooms to each grade.

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.

That option sounded potentially "viable," McCaffrey said, and would release much of the pressure being put on parents, staff and students at the top-rated, but overcrowded school. 

In addition to space, the school has also asked for a seventh and eighth-grade so students can stay there until high school.

At the root of the problem, however, has been the school's size.

The school's science lab is also used as a makeshift music room.

In an administrative room, the only adult bathroom in the school is located among the part-time nurse's supplies, space for diverse learners, advanced placement lessons, counseling and more.

There is no cafeteria. Students line up for lunches wheeled around in carts in the hallway where they pay before walking back to their classrooms where they eat at their desks. The hallway is also where impromptu speech lessons or social work meetings take place when the private administrator's room is in use by any number of groups.

The music, literacy and Latin teacher, along with upper grade literacy instructors, all have desks and share planning space in the library — often at the same time music lessons and student groups are in the room as well.

When it comes to recess, only 95 people are allowed in the gym at once according to its occupancy warning.

When the weather is bad, students are forced to stay inside, bound to their classrooms.

If weather is inclement from January until spring, students use the neighboring Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center gym for recess because they can't all fit in the school's gym — which costs the school $10,000 a year to rent.

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