Move or improve the school?


Parents fix Chicago public school

Despite years of Chicago school reform, many Chicago parents still debate the same questions once the kids hit school age: Can we afford private school in the city or do we have to move to the suburbs?

A group of parents in the Lakeview neighborhood wanted to give themselves another option. They wanted the local public school to be a great place that would serve their children well. About 100 neighborhood residents, most of them moms of pre-schoolers, formed the Nettlehorst School Parent's Co-op this summer. In the span of a typical soccer season, the group raised more than $60,000 and improved an entire public school.

"You can't do one thing at a time. You have to do it in a wholesale way. You have to fix everything,"says Jacqueline Edelberg, who founded the co-op along with Nicole Wagner.

And they plan to fix everything. From filling the library with books to making the exterior a more inviting place, the parents have a lengthy wish list of things that need to be improved. With goods and services donated by local merchants and the time and talents of co-op members, the group already has revamped the media center to include an 8-foot "reading sailboat"and private "reading tub."Julia Goldman, who painted the Lincoln Park Zoo African Journey exhibit, made an exquisite mural outside the cafeteria of the "land and sea pass-through."The Steppenwolf Theater-Arts Exchange, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Charlie Trotter's also are enlisted to enrich the curriculum.

It's all a part of a grand plan to change the school as well as the neighborhood perception of it. After a series of interim principals, the regional magnet school developed a reputation for instability, says Edelberg, mother of Maya, 4, and Zachary, 2, both future Nettlehorst students. She is hoping that the support will restore Nettlehorst's credibility and make it a magnet for neighborhood children. "We hope to fill up two pre-school classes next year and work through the grades from the bottom up,"says Wagner, mother of Chloe, 2½.

The school will host an open house from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 11 to showcase the renovations. For more detailed information, call the school, (773) 534-5597.

-- Laura Distler

Kids Eat Chicago

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