Murray Language Academy was the only public elementary school in Hyde Park to gain enrollment this year — up 22 students — which Principal Greg Mason ascribes to the school's 42-year-old, kindergarten-through-8th-grade language program and strong outreach to parents over the last summer break.
Murray's language focus — all students, in kindergarten through 8th grade, learn Chinese, Spanish or French — makes it a Chicago Public Schools magnet, with 60% of students getting in through a lottery and 40% getting in because they live in the neighborhood.
Mason said the school spent the summer doing outreach — calling parents whose students got in off the lottery and highlighting the school's offerings over other neighborhood schools and others with gifted and talented programs.
"We're not selling a bag of goods, but we're really honest about what we do here at Murray," he said. "And there's a team of us that works to contact these parents."
Assistant Principal Tiffanie Burton said a personalized approach to parents, to answer initial questions about the upcoming school year, followed by a letter to everyone made a significant, positive impression that boosted enrollment.
At this point, Mason said 249 out of 472 students are learning in-school. That number increased at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Hybrid learning in the school has gone from four days a week to two in order to accommodate the increased number of students and social distancing needs.
Burton said more parents have decided to send their children back because they know they learn better in the classroom and have better opportunities for socialization there. "Although students have to maintain social distancing and keep their masks on, they're still able to interact face-to-face," she said. "A lot of parents have called and said that their children need that."
She said parents also picked up on administration and faculty efforts to ensure a smooth adoption of hybrid learning for students learning at home and in the building, 5335 S. Kenwood Ave. At first, parents told them that they wanted to see how things went and that they might opt in once the last quarter began — and some of them did.
Teachers, she said, are well-adjusted to the hybrid model at this point, mostly by keeping the tools that worked well when all instruction was done remotely. Students, both in the classroom and at home, sometimes teach off an interactive whiteboard; so too can they integrate questions-and-answers on a Nearpod.
Mason, who said the school is operating by district safety guidelines for sanitation and contract tracing, added that 5th through 8th grade curriculum teams in math, social studies and reading are meeting to map out contingency plans for the coming year. CPS plans are for a full return to in-person learning, five days a week.
"Regardless of what environment we're going to be in, we've purchased some new curriculum to advance our program of study," he said. "Whatever setting you're in, remote or in-person, we will be spending our time professionally developing our staff in terms of the implementation for these."
"We have a lot of things going for us," Mason said. "We're nested in beautiful Hyde Park. You couldn't ask for a better surrounding than where we are. And you know the community. It's a great location environment."