Keller article off-base, politics not involved

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After reading your article, “Board replaces schools in neighborhoods with clout,” in the November 1996 issue, I was disturbed that you would interpret an improvement of student facilities as an issue of political favoritism.

Keller Gifted Magnet School is the only gifted center in the city that does not have a 7th- and 8th-grade component. After 6th grade, the students have the following choices: transferring to another magnet school, transferring to a neighborhood elementary school or transferring to a parochial school.

In an attempt to provide continuity to the Keller program, the parents had requested that we consider an addition to the present building. This would allow their children to complete their elementary education at Keller. I agreed that it did not make educational sense for the students not to be able to complete all eight grades and graduate from this fine program. This school’s students consistently have test scores among the highest in the state.

After the June public meeting to which you referred, a number of alternatives were explored that could achieve the desired goal. These included building an annex, building an addition or splitting the students between two separate sites. After a thorough study of the existing facility, architects determined that, in addition to the work necessary for bringing it into building code compliance and meeting requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, major repairs were needed. Therefore they recommended that a new facility be constructed. We concurred with that recommendation.

I would like to point out that Keller Gifted is a magnet school, created as part of the effort to desegregate the Chicago Public Schools. Its student body is drawn from an area much larger than the 19th Ward. Only a small percentage come from the Mt. Greenwood community. At the public meetings that were held, some of the community residents were openly hostile to a Keller School even existing. They questioned why the existing building was ever built. The feeling of this vocal group was that the children should go to schools in their own neighborhoods.

Virginia Rugai, 19th Ward alderman, has been consistently supportive of our plan for a 7th and 8th grade at Keller. If the decision had been based on politics, the popular position for the alderman would have been to oppose this plan. Instead, she took the interest of the children to heart.

In looking at our capital plan, one would see that all areas of the city are being treated equitably. To allege that any neighborhood is favored over any others is simply not true. We will continue to provide the finest facilities possible for each and every child in the Chicago Public Schools.