South Loop School expands into new building for more students
May 3, 2019

South Loop Elementary School held a ribbon cutting ceremony in February for its new school building.

By Dolly Duplantier

Beginning in fall 2019, South Loop Elementary School will expand to its new location at 16th and Dearborn Streets. For the first time in approximately ten years, the school will have enough space to accommodate its growing population.

Parents have complained for years about overcrowded conditions at the existing school located at 1212 S. Plymouth Ct. Built in the late 1980s, the school was created to accommodate 690 students. Current enrollment is at 800.

Over the years, one by one, the school gave up rooms for art, music, band, computers, and even the library to make space for the increasing number of students. The school also phased out it Regional Gifted Center to make room for its neighborhood program; that program now is located at the National Teachers Elementary Academy (NTA) at 55 W. Cermak Rd.

The new South Loop Elemen-
tary building, which can accom-
modate 1,200 students in grades
four through eight, is a 120,000-
square-foot, four-story facility
with 32 classrooms. The site boasts computer and science labs as well as dedicated art and music rooms. In addition, the facility will include a kitchen and lunchroom, gymnasium with stage, student services center, multipurpose room, and rooftop play area. The site is also home to a ground-level play lot and a parking lot made with a permeable storm water detention system.

The existing building on South Plymouth Court will remain for grades kindergarten through third. Now, with both buildings, the South Loop Elementary School has the capacity to serve approximately 1,770 students. With the South Loop continuing to grow, this is good news for many young families wanting to stay in the city.

Tara Shelton has been principal of South Loop Elementary for about 15 years. She is proud of the opportunity to give back to the community. “We’ve fought hard for the last seven to ten years to get more space to better serve the community,” she said.

Some South Loop parents chose not to send their children to the school because of their concerns about overcrowding.  “Now they have another option,” said Shelton.

Jennifer Rakstad is on the South Loop School Local School Council. She noted that at one point, the seventh grade class had about 50 students in one classroom. “We had two teachers, but no space for separate classrooms,” Rakstad said. “Some parents were opting out of the school. The new school will encourage people to stay.”

Sweety Agrawal has two children at the South Loop Elementary School and also is on the LSC. She said, “The kids will have a library they can use throughout the day, a larger cafeteria to accommodate more kids at a time, and dedicated spaces for band and art as well. Students will have their own lockers and larger hallways to get between classes. The new building will also allow the school to have events open to the community, with space for many more parents and community members.”

Agrawal added, “We hope it will help the community by having the space to grow into a truly great neighborhood elementary school. We have award-winning teachers and a wonderful band program that finally will have the ability to flourish.”

Growth to continue

“The new South Loop Elementary School is a sound investment in current and future students, and in our growing community,” said 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell. “Our students are achieving record academic gains, and I look forward to seeing this growth continue in the new building.”

Parents, community members, and South Loop administrators worked hard to convince CPS of the need for a larger school. “At one point, we were one of the most overcrowded schools,” Rakstad said. “We were constantly building our case, pounding the pavement. We met with City Hall, CPS, and the alderman. We were showing our commitment to the school. They finally recognized we weren’t going away.”

The school held a ribbon cutting ceremony in February with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Dowell in attendance. “Early reviews from students, parents, and other stakeholders who have toured the new school have been extremely positive,” added Dowell. “To date, I haven’t heard one negative comment. We anticipate an exciting school year at the new facility.”

With the school’s larger capacity, officials had pushed to merge the NTA with South Loop School. In 2017, the Chicago Public Schools recommended to the Board of Education that the boundary for South Loop Elementary School move south to 22nd Street. CPS also recommended the NTA begin transitioning from an elementary school to a neighborhood high school. 

NTA parents fought back, however, and filed suit to stop CPS plans to convert NTA into a high school. In December, a judge granted a preliminary order to block converting the NTA to a high school. According to CPS, they will not appeal the ruling, and the transition will not move forward. NTA will remain an elementary school, and its students will not join South Loop Elementary. The Regional Gifted Center will remain at NTA.

A tuition-based preschool program will again be offered at South Loop Elementary’s branch location at 1915 S. Federal St.

South Loop School’s new building sits across street from Daystar School at 1550 S. State St. Daystar is a faith-based elementary school that is launching a new private high school in this fall. Shelton said she is working with Daystar administrators to discuss the logistics of traffic patterns and other factors affecting both institutions. “We want to be good neighbors and are working on solutions like staggering the pickup and drop-off times.”

“The new school is fantastic for the neighborhood,” Rakstad said.

Students who live within the school’s attendance boundary can enroll automatically and do not have to apply.  Students living outside the attendance boundary must submit a Standard Elementary Schools application between October and December. The school fills available seats, if any, via computerized lottery. Priority goes to applicants with a sibling currently enrolled in the school in grades kindergarten through seventh and who will remain enrolled in the school for the coming school year.

South Loop Elementary School’s boundaries run along the Chicago River to the west, Wacker Drive to Michigan Avenue to Monroe Street to the north and east, and 18th Street to the south.

Boundaries for NTA are 18th Street to the north, Clark Street and the train tracks to the west, the Stevenson Expressway to East Cermak Road to the south, and South Michigan Avenue to East Cermak Road to the lake to the east.

For more information about South Loop Elementary School, visit https://southloopschool.org or see the school’s Facebook page.