Forget high-level discussions regarding a longer school day, teacher tenure and national initiatives like Race to the Top. Ravenswood Elementary, 4332 N. Paulina St., has a more pressing concern: The school is running out of copy paper.
If Brian Ban, a neighborhood resident for 10 years, is elected as a community representative to the school’s Local School Council, his primary focus will be to make neighbors aware of what’s going on in their own back yard. “I’d send out an S.O.S.: ‘We need paper.’”
A member of the 47th Ward’s Center47 block club, Ban is convinced area residents would be more than willing to help the school, if only they were asked or knew how to help. “There’s very little outreach outside ‘Friends of...,’” he said. “We had the LSC [candidate] forum and I asked, ‘Do you go out to neighborhood groups? Do you get on the agenda and ask, What can your group do to help us?’”
Having formerly worked in corporate relations, Ban sees the need for a communications strategy that would better connect Ravenswood to its neighbors, particularly at a time when the school is being challenged to do more with less.
Though not as lauded as fellow elementary schools in the ward such as Bell or Coonley, Ravenswood has quietly become one of CPS’ best-kept secrets; in a show of confidence, the principal enrolls her own children at the school. Ranked a Level 2 school of “good” standing (Level 1 is “excellent”), the school has gained a reputation for its emphasis on small class size and its curriculum, which, as a fine and performing arts magnet cluster, supports artistic as well as academic achievement.
But this steady improvement has resulted in growing pains. “I think we’re going to need [an annex],” said Edie Babbitt, mom to a kindergartner at Ravenswood, where she’s running for parent representative on the LSC. Each grade will have two classes next year and the school’s multi-purpose room, dubbed the “cafegymatorium,” is taxed to the limit.
“You need more money to expand the school,” said Mike Brandfon, also a community candidate for LSC. “Parents are involved, doing whatever they can, but parents are not enough, with diminishing funds.”
As fewer low-income students enroll at Ravenswood, the school loses the money attached to those children. According to Ban, this shortage could reach $200,000 in the 2012-13 school year. “They have big challenges; you need big solutions.”
LSC elections for elementary schools will be held April 18, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., at each school. All residents, not just parents, are eligible to vote at their neighborhood school.