By Terry Dean
District 97 will look at program and space changes within its school buildings to address overcrowding as opposed to any immediate constructing of new additions, says the district's superintendent.
After hearing a report last week from the district's architectural firm, STR Partners, indicating that some schools are at, or just over, their building capacity, Supt. Albert Roberts says the district will review the findings.
Roberts said he wants to talk with the principals and other administrators about possible changes to programs and space use in the buildings. Constructing new additions are not in the immediate plans, Roberts added.
Enrollment is currently around 5,800 students. Only one school, Longfellow, is just outside its capacity range (560 on the low end and 689 on the high end) at 690 students.
Enrollment has been increasing in recent years, tied to full-day kindergarten expansion but also residential changes in the district with new families moving to Oak Park. By 2018, overall enrollment is projected at more than 6,000 students. Some of the buildings do have space challenges, Roberts said.
The district, however, won't go the construction route as it did for Lincoln Elementary School, 1111 S. Grove Ave., in 2011. The school added four classrooms, including a second-floor addition, built on a vacant parcel of land next to the building to address overcrowding there.
Changing school boundaries is a future discussion to possibly address overcrowding, noted Bob Spatz, president of the D97 Board of Education.
"We could potentially have attendance boundary discussions, but that's not part of the clarifications [in the report]," he said, speaking at the board's Nov. 19 meeting.
STR's report does highlight a need to have that discussion, added board member Peter Traczyk.
"I think this begs the question of having the conversation around school boundaries, and is there a no-build solution to this?" Traczyk said.
"I would suggest there is because there's clearly buildings that have capacity availability. But still, there are buildings that have more room and we could have a discussion."
Another concern, Roberts noted, is the elementary kids moving up into the middle schools and potential capacity issues there.
"There are some creative scheduling things we can do. We're going to have to have some community conversations about what those options are," Roberts said.
Board member Denise Sacks added that some buildings could remodel or repurpose space to add classrooms. That, she said, was an option to consider, along with boundaries and others.
"I think there may be options within our existing buildings that would be worth looking at, and it may be programmatic," Sacks said, adding that some programs might be moved to other buildings to free up space.
Roberts said that all of the programs would have to be looked at in the district before making such a decision.
APPLE hosts reading specialist
Parent group APPLE (African-American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education) hosts reading specialist and educator Dr. Edyth Young at its Monday, Dec. 2, meeting from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville Ave., in the faculty dinning room. For more information, call 708-383-3090.
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