Intervention retooled for 2nd year

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Intervention, the Chicago School Board’s toughest remedy for failing schools, has been revamped by new CEO Arne Duncan. Gone are the stacks of paperwork each of the five-member teams had to produce for central officer handlers. Gone are the intense classroom observations by principals. And gone, for now, is the emphasis on booting unsatisfactory teachers.

Duncan wiped out the Intervention office, removing Intervention Officer JoAnn Roberts, her staff of about 10, and the team leaders at each of the five schools undergoing intervention, Bowen, Collins, DuSable, Orr and South Shore. Each school retains the four curriculum specialists from the intervention teams, who will now report to their principals.

For a second consecutive year, the five schools are scrambling to adapt to the board’s last-minute policy change. The board enacted Intervention in July 2000, leaving just weeks for the teams to get prepared. The board approved Duncan’s changes on Aug. 22. The changes reflect the widespread belief that the crackdown on these schools failed on many levels. Each school saw an exodus of teachers, and test scores generally fell.

“I’m not going to use the word ‘intervention’ because it has such as a negative connotation,” says Edward Klunk, who will oversee intervention from his post in the Office of High School Development.

Klunk says the most important change is the elimination of the Intervention Office. Principals, he says, were too controlled last year. “They couldn’t make many decisions on their own. They were under lots of rules and regulations.”

This year, principals will be free, and expected, to produce academic improvement plans, though no deadlines for completion of the plans have been set, Klunk says. The plans may be based on input gathered last winter from community members, teachers and parents during strategic planning meetings at each school.

Under the new policy, each of the four curriculum specialists will teach one class as well as mentor struggling or new teachers and support others with curriculum issues. “If they’re master teachers, they need to show teachers what they can do,” Klunk says.

Principals welcome the change. “We’re not going to be inundated with all that reporting,” says Larry Thomas of South Shore. “We’re actually going to do something productive.”

Klunk says each intervention school will have access to $100,000 for curriculum needs or other expenses. Principals will need to get approval from central office before spending the extra money.

Thomas plans to use part of his share to start the reading initiative Duncan has promoted. The curriculum specialists will support the reading effort, he says.

Central office also will pick up the salaries of the curriculum specialists, which average $80,000.

As for his staff , Thomas says, “I think they’ll be really relieved and not be under so much pressure.”