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Ald. Moore: Move Decatur Classical School into shrinking Field

Ald. Joe Moore at a City Council meeting in May. File Photo by Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Decatur Classical School, an elite K-6th school that’s long complained of outgrowing its Far North Side facility, could move into a large building currently occupied by Field Elementary School as early as September 2017.

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) champions the plan, according to Decatur’s principal and expansion committee chair, who sent a letter Tuesday to the school’s parents. And “CPS had “tentatively blessed” it, Decatur Local School Council Chairman Tim McCaffrey said, pending the outcome of community meetings.

“Eugene Field Elementary School is large enough to accommodate a K-8 school, with two classes at each grade, and also has available space for administrative offices, Diversified Learners, science labs and dedicated music and art instruction,” the letter read. “In addition, Eugene Field has a gymnasium, a cafeteria, an auditorium and an outdoor playground.

“We recognize that this move would represent a change for Eugene Field School, its neighboring schools and the residents of the 49th Ward, and we respect the process they will now go through as they discuss this potential change. If the change is approved, and if Decatur moves to the Eugene Field building, we intend to be good neighbors and feel we would bring a lot of positives to the community — as we do now to our current community.”

Decatur’s current facility, 7030 N. Sacramento Avenue, was designed for small children in grades K-2, and there isn’t room to have two classes of each grade — let alone to expand to grades 7 and 8, McCaffrey said by telephone.

“Our library at Decatur is also the music teacher’s office, the counselor’s office, the Latin teacher’s office,” McCaffrey said. The children who study a year or two above their typical grade level, have to find another school to attend for 7th and 8th grade, and are not guaranteed places in academic centers at elite high schools.

School officials have said that puts enormous pressure on its 5th and 6th grades to score perfect applications.

The proposal would keep Field’s current students in grades 5 through 8 in place until they graduate, and then children who start at nearby New Field would be rerouted after 4th grade to nearby Kilmer Elementary School, McCaffrey said.

Field serves about 200 children, nearly all of whom are considered low-income, and just laid off several teachers. Decatur has almost 300, only 12 percent of whom are considered low-income.

Moore wrote on his web site that the number of children in Rogers Park is shrinking overall so much that Field won’t long be sustainable.

CPS can’t just replace a school without undergoing a legal process that includes public hearings and Board of Education approval.

“Working with Alderman Joe Moore, the community has brought forward a proposal that explores changing the composition of these schools. CPS is receptive to the idea and listening closely to the community,” said CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner.

Decatur’s Local School Council hosts a meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. at 7030 N. Sacramento. And Moore has scheduled his own community meeting on August 30 also at 7 p.m. at Sullivan High School, 6631 N. Bosworth Ave.

Decatur previously explored moving into the Uptown building once occupied by Stewart Elementary School, 4525 N Kenmore Ave., which was shuttered in the mass 2013 school closings. But that space needed millions in improvements, and pushback from community members angry that CPS would consider spending that money on academically elite children so soon after closing the neighborhood school led to the proposal’s demise. Some Decatur parents also weren’t sold on the Uptown location.