During the course of the past year, the LSC and Expansion Committee worked hard to expand the Decatur Classical School to 7th and 8th grade, and to secure for our students the facilities that we currently lack, such as a suitable gym, cafeteria and space for teaching and programs.
Early in the year, parent Kim Manning took the opportunity to talk to Mayor Emanuel about Decatur when she ran into him at another school. This helped us get a meeting early in the year with CPS decision makers, including Janice Jackson (CPS Chief Education Officer). We described our need for a solution and relayed that we are open to creative solutions.
We were hopeful, then discouraged, about the possibility of the Trumbull school becoming available to us. We worked with Alderman O’Connor’s office to see whether it was a possibility for us in the event the sale to a theater/condominium developer did not work out. That sale appears to be moving forward, but Alderman O’Connor agreed to support us in our efforts to expand.
And local media has reported on our facilities issues. In December, DNAinfo reported on the pressure our 5th and 6th grade students go through as they test for 7th grade programs without a defined Decatur program in place for 7th and 8th grade. Please link to the article here.
We met with our Alderman, Debra Silverstein, several times during the course of the school year. We told her that our community would love to expand on our current site, but that most important is that we expand. She said she wants Decatur to stay on its current site, and promised her support. We told her that we had been contacting, and intended to continue contacting, our elected representatives to enlist their support of our efforts. She encouraged us to continue engaging those elected representatives.
Our work recruiting politicians to help us paid off. Numerous parents met with their aldermen and other politicians, some alone and others in groups. We asked them to express their support of Ald. Silverstein, and to assist in her efforts to secure our expansion. Ultimately, we were able to secure expressions of support from nearly 15 politicians, including aldermen, state senators, state representatives, and our own Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Rep. Lou Lang.
Our Committee has been looking into a number of possible short- and long-term solutions.One solution we have presented in our discussions at Committee meetings and with CPS is the possibility of putting a Decatur 7/8 grade in a nearby school that has capacity. The Committee is also looking into the feasibility and cost of mobile classrooms at Decatur. And with knowledge that the Archdiocese of Chicago is closing and consolidating many of its own schools, we have reached out to the Archdiocese about the potential availability of its facilities.
We then met with Fr. Garanzini of the Board of Education. The meeting went well, and Fr. Garanzini really seemed interested in understanding our issues and pushing for a solution. We spent some time going through all of our issues (7/8, space, etc.), and we focused a lot on the stress the kids go through in 5/6 at Decatur. Everyone seemed in agreement that the question is not whether Decatur should have a 7th and 8th grade, but how to accomplish it. We emphasized that we are open to all options. We said that we want a permanent solution, but we really need some solution right away because our kids keep going through this year after year.
We had a follow-up meeting with CPS in June to re-iterate our need for a solution. CPS told us they are working to try to address our concerns, but of course financial constraints are substantial. We remain optimistic that CPS will identify and present a solution to our issues, and we are confident that they hear us and are making it a priority to work to resolve our issues. In fact, CPS recently released its Preliminary Draft Update to the Educational Facilities Master Plan eff. July 1, 2016. In that document, CPS identified as one of its Facilities priorities “addressing the space constraints of other area schools, including identifying options to provide a defined, accelerated 7th and 8th grade program for Decatur students.”
We will continue working with CPS and our elected representatives to resolve our facilities issues and to expand to 7th and 8th grade. We will provide periodic updates here, so please check back from time to time.
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