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Parents, Faculty Desperate For New Addition To Jam-Packed Edgebrook Elementary School

When students at Edgebrook Elementary School need help learning English, they report to an unlikely spot — a table tucked behind a partition on a stairwell landing. They buy their hot lunches from folding tables set up in the hallway, and without a cafeteria, they eat their food at their desks. Their music teacher, who once had his own classroom, now travels from class to class with his instruments piled on a rolling cart.

It hasn’t always been this way, explained Assistant Principal Mary Clancy. But over the past six years, enrollment at the school, located in a quiet neighborhood near O’Hare International Airport on the city’s northwest side, has jumped more than 50 percent, from 300 students to 461.

Edgebrook’s academics haven’t suffered, Clancy said; the school rates among the best public neighborhood schools in the city based on standardized test scores. But simple tasks like scheduling recess have become a challenge, and classrooms are feeling the pinch.

Second- and third-graders are now taught in two modular buildings outside, Clancy said, and every bit of available space inside has been converted into classrooms. The old music room now houses a first-grade class; the old science lab is now home to eighth-graders.

“We’re packed to the gills,” Clancy said.

And with more classrooms needed next year, she said, the school will lose its library as well, a move that seems to be the last straw for some parents.

“It’s difficult to explain to your 10-year-old, what is a school without a library,” said David Klevatt, a member of the local school council and father of an Edgebrook fifth-grader.

Some hope a solution is just around the corner. Members of the Edgebrook School community have been working with Chicago Public Schools to draw up plans for a new wing, which would include eight classrooms, a warming kitchen and an all-purpose room, Clancy said. The two-story addition would be built on what is now the school’s parking lot and play fields.

But while the addition remains on CPS’s to-do list, finding the funding for the project is complicated, said Ald. Brian Doherty (41st), and when it will be built remains unknown.

Since Edgebrook School is in a relatively affluent neighborhood — few of its students qualify for reduced-price lunch — the school cannot take advantage of many funding sources that might help schools in poorer neighborhoods, Doherty said.

“We’re a victim of our own success,” he said.

Similar problems are facing schools in nearby wards, as well. Garvy Elementary School, also located in Doherty’s ward, and Sauganash Elementary, located in Ald. Margaret Laurino’s (39th), are also overcrowded and are slated to get new additions, each of which are expected to cost $5 million, according to a CPS capital project report.

With so many overcrowded schools looking for help, the school district must prioritize based on the schools’ past, current and projected future enrollment, wrote Jim Dispensa, head of demographics for CPS, in an e-mail.

Doherty and members of the Edgebrook Local School Council appealed to the school board on Thursday, turning over a petition signed by 500 parents who support the addition.

“Edgebrook School is a shining example of what a community school should be,” Doherty told the Chicago Board of Education last week. “Please reward them for their good work.”

CPS is expected to announce in the next few weeks whether Edgebrook’s addition will be included in the district’s 2010 budget, Doherty said.

Dan Cotter, chairman of the Local School Council and father of fourth- and seventh-grade boys, said he is “cautiously optimistic.”

“If you give us the space, we can teach,” Cotter said. “But if we lose everything, then it’s hard to figure out how to accomplish that.”

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