Keller parents win stay; overcrowding issue remains

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Parents of students at Keller Gifted School just won a major fight to
stay in their building in Chicago’s Mt. Greenwood area on the far
Southwest Side. But local elementary schools are still stuck with the problem that led to the discussion about moving Keller: too many
students and too little space Parents of students at Keller Gifted School just won a major fight to stay in their building in Chicago’s Mt. Greenwood area on the far Southwest Side. But local elementary schools are still stuck with the problem that led to the discussion about moving Keller: too many students and too little space.

Mt. Greenwood and Cassell have seen a 22 percent increase in students since 2005, and teachers report that children are being taught in every nook and cranny. But where did the kids overflowing Mt. Greenwood and Cassell elementary schools come from?

The answer, in part at least, is from the neighborhood Catholic schools.

Located on the southwest side of the city, the Mt. Greenwood neighborhood has traditionally been home to a large Irish Catholic population as well as a police officers and firefighters. Unlike many Chicago neighborhoods where the demolishing of public housing projects or the creation of new housing developments have shifted the school populations, Mt. Greenwood has not seen much population turnover.

Instead, it has seen the Great Recession.

“I’ve heard that with the economy in the state it is, some people can’t afford to send their kids to the parochial schools that serve the area,” said Keller parent James Kallianis. “I think those schools are seeing a reduction in their numbers and the public schools are seeing higher enrollment.”

Neither the Archdiocese of Chicago nor CPS really keep track of where students enrolled in their schools come from or end up, but community officials say they believe the trend at least partially explains what is going on.

Jimm Dispensa, director of demographics and planning for CPS, agrees. “Anecdotally, we suspect that the increased numbers in these public schools are due in part to decline in Catholic school enrollment,” he says.

Mary Paul McCaughey, the Archdiocese school superintendent, says that Catholic elementary schools in some middle class areas have seen significant drops this year.

“In the low income areas, enrollment has remained constant because those communities are receiving financial aid,” she says. “But in areas where income is somewhat higher, parents do not quite have enough money to send their kids to Catholic schools, and they are not receiving financial support.”

In general, enrollment in Archdiocese elementary schools in Chicago dropped by about 1200 between 2005 and 2008.

Queen of Martyrs and St. Christina Elementary schools are the primary Catholic schools in the Mt. Greenwood neighborhood. Principal Queen of Martyrs Elementary Michael Krsek says he has noticed the decrease in enrollment this year even though he did not have to raise tuition.

“Parents have come to me saying they need to take their kids out of elementary school so they can save up to send them to a Catholic high school,” he says.

McCaughey says, even as the schools face obstacles now, she is confident that both will continue to thrive.