A look at Wentworth Elementary, one year after school merger - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

A look at Wentworth Elementary, one year after school merger

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Schools that fail to educate children are one of the major problems putting Chicago at the Tipping Point. Last year's bold action to close and consolidate schools brought a lot of heat on the mayor and CPS, but as we near the end of the first year with the new deal, how is it actually working?

Principal Dina Everage and her team moved out of the building that housed Daniel S. Wentworth School for 100 years and into what used to be Altgeld School eight blocks away.

"We've gone from almost 300 students to almost 700 students," Everage says. "I would describe it as a challenging year, an uncomfortable year, a stretching year a growing year. But chaos? I don't operate in chaos."

Chaos and danger is what many predicted, if children were forced to cross unsafe and unfamiliar territory.

Principal Everage fought for, and got, shuttle buses from the old Wentworth on 69th and Morgan to the new location at 71st and Loomis. For those who ride and walk, Safe Passage workers patrol the entire route.

"They are very helpful they know each and every child," Grandmother Betty Evans says of the workers.

"So far, so good," shuttle bus driver LaShonda Hicks adds. "No incidents, everything been fine."

The district says it's saving about $41 million a year by co-locating and closing 60 schools so far, without a single serious safety incident on a Safe Passage route, during program hours.

And what about the promise that affected students would be moving to higher performing schools?

"We were able to just really infuse the classrooms with a lot of good technology that I didn't have access to before," says Everage. "I've been able to give all of my students access to visual arts, most of my students receive music. We have drama during the school day."

According to CPS, the early data is promising. For students affected by the consolidations, grade point averages and attendance are slightly up while incidents of student misconduct are slightly down.

The $155 million poured into the 55 welcoming schools has to buy more than new "stuff," though. Wentworth now has a full-time social worker, on a support team that goes beyond academics in an area where the walk to school can still be ugly.

"When I'm on the bus, I feel a little bit safer," one student tells FOX 32. "When I'm walking, I don't because I be thinking about shootings, killings."

Tapped to create a learning climate that transcends what's happening outside school, principal Everage, like all of her peers, feels the pressure.

"When you are in the community where the majority of your students are failing, you should have a lot of heat on you," she says.

The key, she says, is to make sure the heat comes with support to make the changes in that high pressure environment -- something she gives CPS credit for. According to this principal at least, the Barbara Byrd Bennett administration does not rule from a perch. Everage says she gets an answer to every email or phone call to the central office.

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