Efforts to recruit students for Douglas HS ramp up

There are no plans to close the building, but the school is working hard to meet CPS' enrollment request

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By Terry Dean

The effort to enroll at least 100 freshmen at Frederick Douglass Academy High School for the upcoming school year is underway, says the school's principal.

There are no plans to close the building, but the school is working hard to meet Chicago Public Schools' enrollment request – and then some, Principal Vanessa Dereef said.

Douglass has seen its enrollment shrink to roughly 150 students; the building's capacity is just over a 1,000. Dereef said the school has some recruitment efforts in the works, including reaching out to the parents of elementary schoolchildren in the area.

"We've been charged by Chicago Public Schools to recruit 100 freshman to prove our viability and sustainability," said Dereef, speaking at a community meeting held Wednesday at Columbus Park Refectory about how to attract more students.

An alumni picnic scheduled for later this month will look to attract new families and students, Dereef said. CPS students go back to school Sept. 5.

Without an influx of new students, Douglass' future beyond 2018 remains uncertain. The five-year moratorium on closing schools that CPS put in place in 2013 ends next June.

Some 50 schools, including four in Austin, were shuttered in 2013. Douglass escaped that fate and has shown improvements since, said Dereef, who started as principal that same year.

The school's quality performance rating – based on CPS' three-tier grading system on such things as test scores and attendance – has gone from a Level 3 to a Level 2, with 3 being the lowest rating, Dereef said.

That progress, she said, included expanding class subjects and co-curricular activities for students, as well as improved training for staff in restorative justice and conflict resolution for students.

"We needed an instructional lift. We needed to raise our expectations and challenge our kids," Dereef said.

Douglass, she added, is offering new subjects, such as a forensic science course, and expanding existing ones, such as computer science.

Douglass' recruitment drive and future was a main topic at Wednesday's 29th Ward monthly meeting hosted by Ald. Chris Taliaferro.

Residents at the meeting stressed that while the school is in danger of closing without new students, the school is open and ready to accept students this fall.

Taliaferro said the school's recruitment push will be a citywide effort.

"There may be some requirements imposed by the city that Douglass needs to do to remain open; we have to talk about what we can do to make sure that happens," the alderman said.

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