Esmond Elementary School community members waited for years for their aging building’s structural problems to be fixed.
Mt. Greenwood Elementary School supporters wondered how, yet again, overcrowding issues would be addressed.
Both schools now have new two-story annexes, as well as another renovations, that officials said address those concerns and provide a 21st-century learning atmosphere.
Ribbon cuttings were held at both schools on Feb. 8, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel joining 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials and elected officials to celebrate the improvements.
Each project cost about $20 million, officials said.
At Esmond, Principal Angela Tucker called it a historic day. She credited her staff for putting the school in a strong position to earn the city’s investment.
“We have never seen a school like this before,” Tucker said. “Because of your work, because of the mayor’s money, because of the alderman’s support, this is where we are.”
Esmond, 1865 W. Montvale Ave., received a 20,000-square-foot annex that includes a classroom, computer lab, an art room with storage, library, dining room, hybrid kitchen and dining area, an administrative office, bathrooms, building storage, an elevator and building support space.
Renovations to the existing structure, which include the original building constructed in 1891 and an annex built in 1937, included a new roof and repairs to the exterior. Tucker once said she had to use a bucket to deal with a leak in the roof on the first day of school.
The annex will replace a modular unit that was built in 1971 and only intended to be used for 20 years. The modular will be demolished, and a turf field will be installed later this year. A new outdoor playground and community garden are also among the improvements.
The updates give Esmond supporters another reason to smile, as the school received a Level 1+ mark in the fall in the CPS school quality ratings—the highest mark possible. The school had been on probation in recent years.
Emanuel also said the school will be part of a new CPS reading program in which students are required to read three books during summer break.
When Emanuel visited the school to announce the annex plans in February 2017, he stressed that one key for Esmond to succeed was for students to “show up,” to keep attendance marks high.
Student Makhale Bond excitedly told the mayor some good news.
“Well, on this eighth day of February, I am more than excited to announce that we did just that,” Bond said. “You are now sitting in a Level 1+ school with an overall 95-percent attendance rate.”
According to CPS, Esmond’s enrollment is 94.5 percent students from low-income families. Emanuel said people can doubt such schools, but he wanted “the whole the city to see what the Eagles have done.”
“I’ve got one word to all those cynics, all those people who keep saying, ‘Not those kids, not that neighborhood, not from that background,’” Emanuel said. “The Eagles have got something to show you. You come here and look at the Eagles. … Don’t ever, ever bet against the children of the city of Chicago.”
O’Shea said he was met with “a lot of skepticism” when announcing the plan, including from school officials.
Indeed, when he announced the project in 2018, Esmond Local School Council member Tammie Halbert said the school “had been pushed aside for so long.”
O’Shea insisted this project was different—and would become reality—because Emanuel is “a man of his word.”
O’Shea said that the mayor has led the city to invest over $100 million in 19th Ward schools during Emanuel’s eight years in office.
Mt. Greenwood Elementary, 10841 S. Homan Ave., received its third addition in eight years, as an annex was built in 2011 and a temporary modular was installed in 2015.
Enrollment has skyrocketed in the last decade, going above capacity even with the additions, and Principal Kate Reidy said over 1,100 students attend the school this year.
The latest annex is 27,000 square feet and includes 13 classrooms, a science lab, offices, storage and utility rooms, bathrooms and an elevator. Two existing classrooms were converted into space for expanded lunchroom capacity.
A new outdoor playground, a new parking lot and updated storm-water management infrastructure are also part of the renovations.
Reidy said she is grateful that officials answered the call to provide relief.
“We are beyond thankful … to the mayor, to the alderman, to [CPS CEO Janice Jackson], to [CPS Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade],” Reidy said. “They’ve always supported us in everything we’ve ever needed.”
One of the offices will be used for speech therapy services, she said, and another as a testing room for students in special-education programs.
“We are extremely blessed with the city’s support,” Reidy said, “and what they’ve given us.”
The renovations at both schools came after an O’Shea proposal in September 2016 that called for Kellogg Elementary, a CPS school in Beverly, to close, with students merging into Sutherland Elementary, another CPS school in Beverly. O’Shea also called for Keller Regional Gifted Center, a CPS magnet school in Mt. Greenwood, to move into the Kellogg building, and Mt. Greenwood Elementary to become a two-campus school and utilize the Keller building.
He also proposed $20 million in CPS capital funds to improve Esmond.
O’Shea received strong pushback on the plan and eventually dropped most of it. He then focused on improvements at Esmond and Mt. Greenwood Elementary.