Chicago school year to start with changes, challenges

August 23, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The Johnson School of Excellence is one of the Chicago public schools welcoming new students this year. Earlier Friday, school officials showed off their spruced up school building, and then they had a back to school celebration.

The countdown is on as teachers and staff at Johnson get ready for the start of another school year and to welcome lots of new students.

"The excitement, we're feeling it. We're all excited to receive the Pope (Elementary School) students. I'm excited to meet the students," said 5th grade teacher Leslie Perez.

This year, the North Lawndale grade school will welcome about 60 students from the now shuttered Pope Elementary located down the street.

Johnson, which is one of CPS's turnaround schools, has been upgraded.

They are I-Pads for third through 8th graders, new air conditioners have been installed along with better lighting, and a upgraded computer lab.

The school also got a community health center for students and their parents which will be housed in the same building as pre-K and kindergarten classes.

CPS officials say the $1.6 million cost was covered by their capital investments budget.

Money some critics say could have been used to keep other schools and services from being cut.

"Johnson's role is to receive the students. The decision has been made from the Chicago Public Schools. I would say we certainly empathize with some of the concerns they had, but our job is to be ready to receive them and to make sure they know they are now part of our family," said Alice Henry, Johnson School principal.

And the staff was ready with an afternoon cookout.

For students like 13-year-old Naykaya Watson, who is nervous about attending a new school, the 8th grader says the BBQ helps.

"Cause I can meet my teachers and I can know how they operate and tell them what type of person I am," she said.

While controversy over school closings continue, parents Gloria Crosby just hopes everyone remembers to put the education of children first.

"The children, that's what's important. Education and the kids," Crosby said.

School officials have had events like Friday all summer long, making sure that, not just returning, but new students feel comfortable when classes start on Monday.

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