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CPS still mum on who will be able to attend new Dunning school

The final plan for the school, which would serve about 1,200 students, was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission last October. | Rendering courtesy of the Public Building Commission

Workers broke ground earlier this year on a $70 million new school in the Far Northwest Side neighborhood of Dunning, laying the foundation for a gleaming three-story complex set to teach 1,200 students when it opens in fall 2019.

But it remains unclear which students will be able to attend the school.

Chicago Public Schools officials said they won’t announce how the school, 4071 N. Oak Park Ave., will be used until this fall, but district leaders have repeatedly signaled that the building will likely be a freshman campus for Taft High School in Norwood Park. Taft this year enrolls more than 3,300 students in a school built for fewer than 2,200.

But many parents in Dunning are still clamoring for a high school of their own, saying they’ve been promised as much for decades.

The allure of a high school was part of the reason January Sambell bought a house in Dunning in 2004, she said.

Construction at the site of the new school in the Dunning neighborhood. | Courtesy STL Architecture
Construction at the site of the new school in the Dunning neighborhood. | Courtesy STL Architecture

“Even back then, everyone was talking about a new school going there, and I loved the idea of having a neighborhood high school my kids would be able to walk to,” Sambell. “Suddenly, it seems like that’s not going to happen anymore, and it feels like the rug is being pulled out from under us.”

CPS officials have promised Dunning parents that their kids will be eligible to attend the new school, even if it’s reserved for high school freshmen. But with three children in CPS elementary schools, Sambell said she’s dreading having to send them 3 miles up the road to Taft every day once they hit 10th grade.

During 2017, CPS demographics director Jimm Dispensa attended Local School Council meetings at schools across both neighborhoods, bolstering the concept of a Taft freshman campus but defending the district’s delay of a final decision.

“When it comes to making decisions on attendance boundaries or grades, it’s important for the Board [of Education] to have the most recent possible data of where kids live,” Dispensa told parents at Bridge Elementary School in Dunning during a public meeting last November.

District spokesman Michael Passman declined to say why CPS is keeping the school’s identity under wraps, but he wrote in an email that CPS leaders are “evaluating feedback and working with community stakeholders to finalize plans for the new school and ensure it effectively supports local families.”

But parents and educators all over the Northwest Side, including school principals and even Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th), have claimed difficulty prying information from CPS.

Kathy Fern, chairwoman of Taft’s Local School Council, said she hasn’t heard anything from Dispensa since he attended a council meeting in February 2017.

“We don’t get a direct line from them at all, but that’s just how things go with CPS,” Fern said. “We would love it if they would include our thoughts in their planning, but that just doesn’t seem to happen.”

The Taft LSC has stood behind its principal, Mark Grishaber, in his fierce advocacy for a freshman-only campus. Grishaber said Thursday he’s “optimistic” CPS will approve the plan and “hearing good things” about its likelihood.

“I won’t say ‘yipee’ until they come out with an announcement, so I’ve still got my fingers crossed,” Grishaber said. “Because we need the space.”

Sposato did not respond to multiple requests for comment.