The population shifts of the 1990s have tipped the scales at Schubert Elementary in Belmont Cragin.

In the 1980s, the Far Northwest Side school was a “receiving school,” with more than a third of its students bused in from overcrowded schools on the West Side. By the mid-1990s, gentrification in West Town and Logan Square had pushed many Latino families west into Belmont Cragin and moved immigrant ports of entry to the west as well.

As a result, Schubert was stretched to the seams trying to serve all the children in the newly crammed attendance area. In 1996, the School Board built a 10-classroom annex to relieve some crowding. Two years later, it bought a shuttered Catholic school nearby and converted it into Northwest Middle School, which absorbed Schubert’s 6th- through 8th- graders.

Even so, Schubert is serving 1,392 students—more than twice as many as in 1990 and exceeding its capacity of 1,265 students. (School Board officials consider elementary schools overcrowded once they hit 80 percent capacity.)

Last fall, the school had no classroom space for its state-sponsored pre-kindergarten program. The Region 2 education officer found and leased a suitable space for the program at a nearby shopping mall.

Now, parents drop off their kids for Schubert’s preschool at the Hall, a retail mall on Diversey that also houses preschool facilities for Barry Elementary.

Meanwhile, Schubert’s main building is bustling but tidy, the hallways dotted with orderly rows of children on their way to lunch, bathroom breaks or pullout classes throughout the day.

So far, Principal Patricia Hart and the local school council have declined to use busing to keep enrollment down, but the school is running out of remedies. Most families expect to have access to a school in their neighborhood and would be disappointed if they are told, ‘There’s no room,” she says.

However, an April 2000 report commissioned by the Board of Education projects that in five years, the number of school-aged children in Schubert’s attendance area will grow 35 percent or more.

If Schubert’s population continues to grow, Hart says she and the local school council will consider busing kids out.

Dan Weissmann with intern Catrin Einhorn

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