‘Classical’ Skinner gets neighborhood attendance focus
June 5, 2009

Skinner School’s new building will open to students in the fall. It will accommodate 794 students.

By Susan Fong | June 2009

When Skinner School students return to 1260 W. Adams St., they will have more than just a new 101,000-square-foot building. The school will be renamed as Skinner West Classical Fine Arts and Technology, with a new program focus.

In Nov, 19, 2008, Chicago Public School (CPS) Board actions, the CPS approved the change of “Mark T. Skinner Elementary School from a Classical School into an attendance area (neighborhood) school with a Magnet Cluster Program and a Classical Program,” according to the CPS Board actions report of that date.

In September 2009, the neighborhood component begins by Skinner West adding a kindergarten class each year until 2017, when the school will then have neighborhood students in all grades, kindergarten through eight.

“TIF money from several wards was used to build this school,” noted 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett Jr., “so my major focus is to meet the needs of the community.”

A magnet cluster school is a neighborhood school with a magnet program focus in one of six areas. Each cluster school collaborates with four-to-six other cluster schools or magnet schools to assist each other in strengthening programming. As its magnet cluster focus, “Skinner West will first concentrate on its fine arts programming and then develop its technology arm,” said Principal Deborah M. Clark.

All magnet cluster schools will receive full funding from CPS during their first year. The percent of future funding will then depend on a school’s ability to meet the projected goals within its action plan. New Skinner West attendance boundaries established by CPS begin at Ashland Avenue and Kinzie Street, east to Desplaines Street, south to Lake Street, east to the Chicago River, south to the Eisenhower Expressway, and west to Ashland Avenue.

During the demolition and construction period, Skinner students had been relocated to the Sojourner Truth School building at 1443 N. Ogden Ave.

“News of the program change came down the pipeline in August 2008,” said Local School Council Chairman Angela Griffin, “just a couple weeks before the new school year.”

She reported organizing a letter campaign with others to mobilize the parents to meet with CPS officials last fall.

The Board Action report states that a Sept. 19, 2008, public hearing was held to discuss the relocation and the attendance boundaries.

At present, Skinner Elementary is one of four classical elementary schools in Chicago. It is the largest of the four and the only one to have a seventh and an eighth grade.

As the neighborhood component grows not only may the classical program lose some of its seats, but it could eventually also lose its academic standing, said parent Kira Kurka, manager of the parent-teacher funding organization Gallery 111.

School Board officials responded to the parents’ concerns about the classical program with an offer to create a new school, Skinner North, dedicated solely to the classical program. The school will open with a kindergarten and first and second grade classes this fall. Its location had yet to be decided at press time.

Ethan Netterstrom is the new Skinner North principal, and Clark will assist him with the new teacher hires.

“Skinner North will increase the available seats in the City’s classical program,” said Franklin Shuftan, CPS deputy press secretary. Clark has been with the Skinner Elementary 16 years and has grown Skinner Elementary’s classical program to 614 students.

The new building on Adams will accommodate 794 students, with science labs and music and art rooms, according to the City Public Building Commission.

Still, Clark is worried about how to retain the classroom space for integrity of the successful classical program as the neighborhood component grows within Skinner West. She hopes to hold the number of classical seats at Skinner West.

Funding for the classical and neighborhood programs comes from different sources, so maintaining equity among students with differing education resources also may be challenging.

“Maintaining equity has never been a problem for Principal Clark,” said parent and LSC member Seamus Glynn, who noted Clark previously “has built a model of cooperation between the special needs children and the classical population that is a model for the society at large.”

Clark said she feels that she can meet the challenges.

Parents now must make a decision whether to leave their children at the Skinner West classical program or transfer them to Skinner North.

Both Burnett and Shuftan feel that having Skinner West and Skinner North is a win-win situation for both Chicago and the neighborhood.

“Our priority first and foremost is the children,” Clark concluded. The board actions can be found here.

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