MOUNT GREENWOOD — Enrollment at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in Mount Greenwood would jump from a maximum of 720 students to 800 pupils under a bill sponsored by state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago).
"We need to be increasing access to top-tier schools," Cunningham said.
The bill, approved by the Illinois Senate Tuesday, also would officially recognize the special education program at the school and set aside 80 spots for its students. The general enrollment would then increase to 720 students, giving the school a total enrollment of 800 — a figure that Principal William Hook said is the "absolute max" the school can hold.
The Ag School was created by state law more than 20 years ago, so changes require the approval of the General Assembly. The increased enrollment would likely take effect in the fall 2018, said Cunningham, whose district includes Mount Greenwood, Beverly, Morgan Park and Auburn-Gresham in Chicago.
The school's special education program now has 71 students.
"The Ag School allows that sort of integration between the [special education] program and the mainstream program," Cunningham said Wednesday. "There is so much hands-on activity there, whether you are working in the barns, greenhouses or elsewhere."
As a magnet school, 50 percent of the students must come from within the nearby communities of Beverly, Mount Greenwood and Morgan Park. The school's boundaries go as far as north as 87th Street and east to Wood Street, Hook said.
Capping enrollment at 800 should still allow teachers and students to get to know each other as well as maintain the current atmosphere, he said.
Rather than add staff, Hook said he'll offer teachers overtime pay to teach extra classes as enrollment increases, which makes more sense financially for the school. It also allows Hook to lean on the teachers he already knows and trusts versus hiring new staff.
State Rep. Fran Hurley (D-Chicago) takes over as sponsor of the bill as it moves on to the Illinois House. Cunningham expects the measure to be passed along to the governor and signed into law this summer.
Cunningham further stressed the importance of protecting special education at the Ag School, though he said there has been no threat to do away with the program. Only now, the new legislation should keep the program there forever.
"This hopefully means this program is here to stay," he said.