South Loop RGC update

March 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm 23 comments

I have a report from a parent who attended a meeting with CPS about the South Loop Regional Gifted program that is being phases out at the school.

As some background, last year CPS announced that it would phase out the RGC in at South Loop elem due to general overcrowding in the school.  The downside of the success of adding a gifted program to a neighborhood school is that the halo affect of the program that seems to rub off on the neighborhood program tends to results in overcrowding (same at Bell and Coonley.)  Beaubien has somehow avoided this, but with the principal retiring it could be a whole new ballgame.  Pritzker all seems to have adequate enrollment without bursting.

South Loop was not included as an option on this year’s application and parents have been questioning how seats would be filled due to natural attrition.

At the time I thought the plan made sense.  A gifted program has been phased IN year by year at my son’s school and that has worked fine.  We really operate class by class so it doesn’t matter if there is one or nine grades.

However what I and what CPS didn’t anticipate is that the uncertainty of the program has resulted in families looking to leave asap rather than wait out their child’s tenure in the gifted program.  So suddenly you may have classes losing several kids a year, with no plan to re-populate them.

After some time trying, parents finally secured a meeting with CPS to get some answers as to the fate of the program.  One parent’s report is below.

Another key question is whether CPS has any plans to start a NEW gifted program to fill the already-sparse number of elementary seats.  If placing a program in a school seems to be an easy way to help a school grow enrollment, it seems like a win-win/no-brainer, right?


Questions for South Loop RGC Meeting with CPS

1.     Why was South Loop’s RGC removed from the OAE 2012-2013 Options for Knowledge guidebook entirely, and why does the guidebook imply that South Loop’s RGC has been altogether eliminated?

2.     Has there been a precedent RGC phase-out case in CPS before? If yes, what was the practice? Are there any lessons to be drawn from that? 

3.     In light of the decision not to phase-out LaSalle Language Academy due to overcrowding at Lincoln Elementary earlier this school year, help us understand the decision-making process that justifies the phase-out of the South Loop RGC under what would appear to be similar circumstances.

4.     Will CPS agree to fill all vacated seats in South Loop’s RGC classrooms with students from the selective enrollment applicant pool for the duration of the phase-out period?

5.     If CPS does not intend to fill seats in South Loop’s RGC classrooms that are vacated, why not?  How does CPS intend to maintain the vitality of the existing RGC program at South Loop when its classrooms may fall well under capacity?

6.     Will CPS commit to maintain RGC classrooms at South Loop consistent with the mission of the RGC program if those classrooms only have 10 students in them?  Five?  Three?

7.     How can CPS reassure parents of children in younger RGC classrooms that this program will remain strong and fully supported five to eight years down the road?

8.     If the RGC classrooms are small, won’t this result in larger neighborhood classrooms since teachers are allocated based on averages? How can the integrity of the RGC program be maintained in the face of such overcrowding?

9.     Will kids from the neighborhood classrooms be mixed in with the RGC for any subjects other than art, music, phys Ed or world language?  This includes the “Walking” program.  If so, then how is the RGC truly an RGC?  Is this allowed at other RGC or classical programs that share space with a neighborhood program?

10.  If this solution does not prove to help South Loop’s overcrowding, is there a chance our children could be asked to leave South Loop? If that happens, will they be sent to another RGC?

11.  Do any other SEES in the city lack language instruction as a part of the curriculum as is the case at South Loop? OAE’s website lists World Language as a vital part of the program that is offered at *all* SEES. 

12.  Some parents have younger children who will not have the chance to be at SLS, not only because the RGC is being phased out, but also because the open enrollment for siblings is gone.  As a result, the RGC will start immediately eroding as the younger siblings are admitted in other schools and parents try to keep their kids together.  Therefore, is there any possibility that the open enrollment at SLS for siblings of the RGC students is allowed as an attempt to keep the current students from leaving SLS?  If the answer to this question is “No”, and if the siblings of RGC students are admitted in another selective enrollment program, can you consider offering a spot at that new school to the SLS student without testing them again?

13.  Gifted and Talented students on the North Side have a tremendous variety of alternatives, from formal GTE programs at Bell, Edison, Beaubien, etc., to high-quality magnet programs at nearly a dozen other schools.  On the South Side, there are only a handful of schools of that caliber:  South Loop, Lenart, Keller, and possibly Murray and Ray.  What is CPS doing to replace the 240 seats lost to south-side families with gifted and talented students?

14.  What is the status of the gifted coordinator position at South Loop?  We have never been introduced to such a person during our child’s time at South Loop, and we understand that the coordinator position is essentially being used to cover perceived staffing shortfalls elsewhere at the school.  Without a program coordinator, how do we know that the objectives of the RGC program are being met?  Moreover, without a program coordinator, who is there to ensure that the program is not being compromised in the name of what is “best” or “necessary” for the school?

15.  What are the reasons for funding Bell’s $10M expansion and Coonley’s second multi-million dollar expansion, given that Bell and Coonley both have RGCs that crowd out the neighborhood programs?   Why are their programs worth saving while South Loop’s is not?

16.  What is the purpose of the RGC in neighborhood schools? To attract the middle class in Chicago? To give children in neighborhoods without a strong program a chance? If so, then Bell and Coonley’s programs should move just like South Loop’s to a mixed income school. 

17.  Why are test scores for RGCs not disaggregated from neighborhood schools? What are those scores for South Loop, Bell, and Coonley?  

18.  What are acceptance rates and average scores of each of the RGCs and over time?

The meeting was attended by Oliver Sicat, Erick Pruit, Mike McGehee, Katie
Ellis, and Jimm Dispensa (numbers guru).  We also had our principal and
assistant principal, as well as alderwoman Pat Dowell, representatives from
Alderman Fioretti’s office, and a State Senator in attendance. We had over 100
parents (so much for their insignificant minority).

Oliver Sicat started out by giving a 5 minute rundown that can be summed up by:
“I was new, I had only been there for a few weeks, something needed to be done
right away, so we talked to the principal and this is what we did. We apparently
did not gauge the community well.”  He freely admitted there was no plan for
moving forward and opened up the floor to questions.  (Parents laughed in his
face, and not in a good way, when he said this.)

After a few questions, they admitted they had seen the list we submitted, and
they thought they had addressed most of it. Again, more laughing, and not of the
good variety.  Parents stepped up and asked the questions from the list, saving
the person who compiled the list from having to read them all.  Really, the big
take away from this is they made a decision without thinking through the
consequences, and that “all options are still on the table.”

Some points of note:

-They don’t seem to see the decision to leave vacancies due to attrition open as
a permanent situation, but they also don’t believe there will be a mass exodus
from the school either. They do not want to reopen testing this year (like Lane
last year), but they didn’t rule it out completely either.  I don’t know that
they truly understood the amount of anxiety that decision has left parents
regarding the sustainability of the phase out.  (It is going to be a drop off,
not a phase out.)

-They seemed to waffle on the permanence of the decision to phase South Loop’s
RGC out – it is open for discussion, it is  a done deal, it is open. Oliver
Sicat flip flopped on that one, often, and was called out on it by several
including 2 members of our LSC.

-They do not see this situation as similar to Lincoln/Lasalle’s issue because
Lincoln has more neighborhood children than physical space at the school.  South
Loop allegedly has the capacity *if* you remove all non-neighborhood children,
therefore it is not eligible for additional space.  They had no real answer for
why removal of the RGC was not a solution at Bell, only that because they have
so many children, they get the $$$.

-They repeatedly affirmed that they were “committed to the RGC”, but then also
stated that the money/resources follow the children. They also said that OAE
only allocates 2.5 positions to SLS now (down from 4), and those positions are
all used to fund the fine arts teachers for the fine arts magnet cluster status
of the school. What will this mean when you’ve halved the RGC? They had
no answer.  They did mention split grades, numerous times,
which doesn’t sound like a great idea.

-CPS admitted this is a long term solution (assuming valid long term
projections) and that it will do nothing to help the short term problem of 35+
kids in lower grade classrooms.  That could get worse before it gets better.

-Apparently CPS finished some sort of study and found that the return on
investment for RGCs is very high, and that they are cost effective. (Duh? How
much more tangible resources are these kids actually getting? At South Loop,
very little.)  This study is why they were reluctant to address our situation
before now.  They claimed they needed to decide if they even wanted to continue
to support RGCs before they agreed to talk with us.  They say now the
conversation centers on what role they play in the system at large – is it to
keep families in the system? to offer something else to kids? to bring schools
up to a higher level?

-There was a LOT of discussion about the dearth of SEES and decent magnet
schools on the south side, especially since these seats have been lost.  It
seems now that their numbers people have deemed these cost effective, they want
to phase in a new program to replace lost seats.  NTA is their prime candidate,
and they say that they plan to start discussions soon at schools including South
Loop and a few others who are in a similar situation (or on their way to it).

-The possibility of picking up the entire RGC and moving it was mentioned, as
was the possibility of phasing one in at the younger grades while SLS phases
theirs out. With this later option, the possibility was also raised of allowing
families to choose which school to attend.

-The biggest points of agreement for the parents are that lost seats need to be
replaced somehow (CPS agreed), and that vacancies need to be filled during the
phase out. (CPS said it is on the table, but I don’t think they truly get it.)

The meeting went for 2 hours, and had to be cut off.  CPS promised continued
dialogue.  If this meeting did nothing else, CPS and our local
administration are now aware that they did not consider the needs of the
*entire* South Loop community as it stands now.  We are optimistic that
Mr. Sicat and Ms. Ellis both agreed to open the lines of communication.

Entry filed under: Gifted / Classical Testing. Tags: , .

WBEZ story to run again Tuesday Another Way to Look at the Tier System (and more data!)

23 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Esmom  |  March 14, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    “They had no real answer for why removal of the RGC was not a solution at Bell, only that because they have so many children, they get the $$$.”

    As someone who attended numerous meetings at Bell to address the overcrowding, I can tell you that removal of the RGC was always introduced as possible option but it always ended up being pulled off the table. In the end I think clout had a lot to do with the expansion getting the green light. But like most things involving the tricky interplay between CPS and the local alderman, it ended up being shrouded in considerable secrecy.

  • 2. John  |  March 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    for me this speaks to the nagging feeling that the rug could be pulled out from under our family at any moment, despite the great options we have found for our kids at cps.
    seems like we will always need a plan b…

  • 3. anonymous  |  March 14, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    “Apparently CPS finished some sort of study and found that the return on investment for RGCs is very high, and that they are cost effective.”

    Would some from South Loop Gifted please FOIA this report and share? Many here would be interested, I’m sure.

  • 4. anonymous  |  March 14, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    The registered FOIA officer at CPS is Cassandra Daniels, her
    information is listed below:

    Cassandra Daniels
    Freedom of Information Officer
    125 South Clark Street
    7th Floor
    Chicago, IL 60603
    Phone: (773) 553-1660
    Fax: (773) 553-1701

  • 5. mom  |  March 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Did they ever answer @17? I’ve always been curious. “17. Why are test scores for RGCs not disaggregated from neighborhood schools? What are those scores for South Loop, Bell, and Coonley?”

  • 6. cpsobsessed  |  March 14, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    No idea and it drives me nuts! In a city that is hell bent on measuring performance, the “total” data for those schools is garbage.

    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

  • 7. chicagodad  |  March 14, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    One of the reasons that there is overcrowding at Bell is because it is a great school in a location people are happy to move into for the school, and one of the reasons it is great is because it contains a RGC. There would still be overcrowding even if the RGC was pulled, that’s how that neighborhood is. FYI, CPS in one of their typical done deals forced Edison RGC to leave the bldg it had been in for over 20 years. It’s parents had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the school for basics CPS didn’t provide over the course of more than 2 decades and they were forced out in the name of solving over crowding in other neighborhood schools in the immediate area. Two+ years later the Edison bldg was still not up to 50% capacity, even though many parents of that community complained of overcrowding during the useless meetings held beforehand. There is no school so good, no school whose parents are involved enough to prevent destructive, brain dead interference from CPS. Don’t believe what they say, and be warned. CPS is deaf to parent voices unless you happen to want what they’ve already decided to do.

  • 8. King Ph.D.  |  March 14, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Over the years, CPS has systematically relocated regional gifted centers from primarily white, middle class neighborhoods to minority neighborhoods. The list includes Lenart RGC, Edison RGC, and they attempted to move Keller RGC. I believe that in response to CPS’s failure to relocate Keller School a few years ago, the new strategy at South Loop was not an outright closure/relocation. Instead they have opted to kill the program by starving the school of students, then they will open a “new RGC” at a location like Princeton AC School, which was where CPS tried to move Keller RGC. Not sure why they keep doing this.

    They usually claim that it is because of overcrowding, and this may be true to some extent because CPS has many underutilized buildings in areas that are unsafe, or the housing stock has deteriorated so much that there is not enough people living in the areas to fill the school.

  • 9. another CPS mom  |  March 14, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Did I hear someone say FOIA?

    DO YOU WANT TO LEARN HOW TO REQUEST UNDER FOIA? Non-journalists are also welcome to attend this free workshop on Saturday, but you must register:

    From the Headline Club/Society of Professional Journalists:

    *** workshop on March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day) ***

    *** It will be held from noon to 2 pm at ITT Chicago-Kent College of Law, 565 W. Adams, room 580.***

    Speakers will be Maryam Judar, an attorney with the Citizen Advocacy Center, Natalie Brower Potts, head of the Center for Open Government at the Law School – the only one of its kind in the nation – and reporter Angela Caputo of the Chicago Reporter.

    They will walk us through the basics of getting information and then standing up for our rights to get information when we run into obstacles. They will also talk about how we can make sure we have access to meetings that we need to report on.

    Why is this important?

    It’s key to doing our work. For the Headline Club it is also a sign of our dedication to make sure government agencies give us the information we need and we don’t back down when we know we doing our jobs.

    Our research last year, funded by the McCormick Foundations, told us that many of you run into heavy obstacles in getting the information you need. That’s why we are creating a FOIA online guide to tell you who the FOIA officers are here in the Chicago area and at state agencies. And why we are setting up a website to let you know about court cases, legal battles and everything linked to Freedom of Information in Illinois. Again, the funding comes from the McCormick Foundation.

    If we don’t care about this, nobody else will and we’ll quickly lose reporting footholds that took years to establish.

    So please join us this Saturday and please let us know what more you think we should be doing about your rights.

    To RSVP:

    To register for the FOIA event above, you should email the Chicago Headline Club at to confirm attendance.

  • 10. SouthLooper2  |  March 14, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    The closing does make sense, if you consider that this program did not meet many of the criteria that make a RCG -foreign language, and a gifted coordinator, among other things. The curriculum centers around core subjects, with no enrichment courses, and the gifted curriculum was not accelerated or differentiated the way it is at the other successful RCGs. In fact, students from the “neighborhood” program easily transfer into the gifted, and they seem to be on par academically -which is a good thing, in a way. But this was not a gifted program in the true sense of the term. The label did attract a lot of people who would have probably send their kids elsewhere.

  • 11. Alcott and Lincoln merging?  |  March 14, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Anybody know anything about this possible merger?

  • 12. mom2  |  March 14, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    @8 – I wonder if your comments go along with CPS trying to decide the purpose of RGC’s now. It can’t be to keep certain families in the city and in CPS or they wouldn’t keep moving them to or opening them in less safe neighborhoods.

  • 13. Nathan  |  March 14, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    Linking in to the other discussions regarding SEHSs. If you’re wondering why so many families are going to private schools, it’s because of stuff like this. As a parent, I am now so terrified of CPS that I will likely send my kids to private schools even if they are accepted to an RGC. The city clearly does not have the best interests of children or families in mind and the beaurocracy seems impenetrable.

  • 14. John  |  March 15, 2012 at 7:05 am

    @7 Edison Park is considered overcrowded according to the space utilization report published in December. 428 students for a school with an ideal program enrollment of 300…

  • 15. chicagodad  |  March 15, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Some probable reasons are that since CPS doesn’t disagregate the scores of RGC’s, relocating them creates the illusion of improvement of test scores overall. It also creates the illusion of having better schools in the neighborhoods that need them. I don’t see any other explanations for causing the massive disruption that a move inflicts on a school community, especially when they are forced into the logistical nightmare of sharing a building with another school. The end result is way more stress for staff and teachers at both schools who should be focused on teaching, not adjusting schedules so that a flood of kids aren’t trying to leave the building at once every day and other things like that.

  • 16. chicagodad  |  March 15, 2012 at 10:44 am

    @14 , John, glad and sorry to hear that the school is now full and the over crowding persists. CPS has no vision or imagination when it comes to understanding the causes and nature of over crowding and then using that info to address the situation. Edison Park has a lot of land behind it where CPS could add capacity, but CPS knows so little about what the construction industry has to offer that they’ll never be able to take advantage of the many high quality off the shelf solutions that could be implemented (built) in well under a year. There are code compliant methods that can go from plan approval to completion in less than 6 months. Maybe if some of the companies that can do this made campaign contributions…….

  • 17. jp  |  March 15, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Decision was sudden because of lack of preparation. What a joke. CPS set up a task force three years to study this issue. Alderman Fioretti has been in discussions about overcrowding solutions for SLS since 2008!

    There are 188 out of boundary students in the neighborhood program due to principal selection. That is the cause of the demise of the gifted program. Overcrowding in the buidling will only get worse the next three years even with the phase out of the gifted. They haven’t addressed anything and it is clear from the meeting they have no idea what they plan to do. I feel bad for the parents and the community as CPS flounders with key decisions about one of its best schools.

  • 18. LR  |  March 17, 2012 at 10:18 am

    With regards to what RGC’s offer the system at large…Three years ago we would not have even considered CPS if not for the RGC and Classical programs. If RGC’s did not exist, but our neighborhood school had offered a gifted program, then I definitely would have considered the neighborhood school. So, from my point of view, it’s not necessarily that RGC’s are necessary, but when your kid is reading at a 5th grade level in Kindergarten, yeah, they need something more than a little differentiation can provide. An internal options/gifted/classical program would be fine, too, but possibly a bit less efficient than an RGC set up. When you have an RGC, you have an entire class of kids that is moving at the same pace. The teacher has one curriculum for the entire class. When you have an internal gifted program, you have to figure out how to structure it, because there may not be enough kids for an entire class. So, you would have to figure out how to separate out kids who are tracked 1-2 years ahead for academic subjects. I’m sure there is a precedent because I have heard some neighborhood schools do this.

  • 19. Chris F.  |  March 29, 2012 at 5:28 am

    Has anyone heard about the RGC for Lenart? I’s far from where we live (we live 12 blocks from South Loop). If we reject Lenart, the offer letter stated that there are no guarantees that another RGC would be offered. Is it possible to speak to CPS and ask, based on my child’s test scores (134), if another RGC would be offered?

    It just seems crazy how “Russian Roulette” this system is!?

  • 20. Oneandonly  |  March 31, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    @18 LR

    My dd is in RGC at Pritzker. “Gifted” kids are the same as others, they are not all moving at the “same pace”. One curriculum sure, it’s accelerated so by the end of “3rd grade” they are working 5th grade level math concepts for example. BUT… the teacher still has to deal with kids at different levels. In DD’s class, they have 3 or 4 reading and math groups based, differentiated instruction given when possible based on where each group is in reading/math. DD’s got a high B/low A in math, there are some high A’s and a couple D’s too, grades, level of understanding all over the map. Now there are 28 kids in the class, so it would help if more were “moving at the same pace” but from an instruction perspective it’s like any other class/learning environment.

    We chose to put DD in an RGC because in her old school “gifted” education was a pull out program, 1 to 2 hours per week. The rest of the time, she was always the kid in the class who was done first or helping another child read or work on math problems, she was not allowed to move ahead. We wanted to see her pushed, we wanted to see what it would look like if she was in a group of her (on paper) intellectual peers. So far (in spite of some behavior problems in her particular class) we think she’s being pushed and seems to be keeping up and her teacher thinks she could do more.

    I also understand there are some “gifted” track programs at neighborhood schools, which employ some individual testing, like the Accelerated Reader program and then make recommendations for an individual child based on those test results.

    Right now we are tying to weigh whether it’s worth it to put up with the behavior issues in her current school or consider another RGC we’ve been offered, or look at a neighborhood school that might have a “gifted” track. (If anyone has a list of “gifted track” schools, could you pass that along?, that would be most welcome).

    While we know with RGC we can live anywhere in the city and attend our RGC; we prefer to live near enough to our school to walk/bike rather than commute.

  • 21. Oneandonly  |  March 31, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    @Chris F,

    Check out the other CPS-O thread for comments on gifted scores. You might find some insight here:

  • 22. SJLC  |  April 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    South Loop is overcrowded. It’s not getting additional space. What is your solution?

    All of this talk about disruption, conspiracy theories and long

    I am both annoyed at reading all of your comments and happy that I am leaving Chicago (for another big city where I will have to deal with the same boneheadedness).

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