National academy planners still juggling ideas

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More than a year after Mayor Richard M. Daley announced plans to create a National Teaching Academy of Chicago, architects are designing the building but the program and its partners are still up in the air.

When the mayor introduced his idea during last year’s election campaign, city and school officials outlined what educators call a professional development school, that is, a real school staffed by master teachers who also work with visiting teachers or teachers-in-training.

The school was to be built near the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), which would join the Chicago Public Schools and the Golden Apple Foundation in developing and running the training program. The March 10, 1999 issue of UIC News listed six possible sites and quoted then-Chancellor David Brodski praising the “unique partnership.”

Subsequently, the School Board chose none of the above and decided to build two schools, one elementary and one high school. For the elementary school, it chose a site at 22nd and Federal near the Ickes and Hilliard Homes housing developments. The K-8 school is to enroll 380 students and open in fall 2001.

“We had an agreement with that community to build a new school to replace South Loop branch some years ago, so we decided to put it there. It’s in our capital development plan,” explains Chief Education Officer Cozette Buckney. “Yes, the University of Illinois was considering giving up some land, but it didn’t work out.”

The revised location figured in the heated election campaign for the local school council at South Loop School, where middle-income and low-income parents and community members have been engaged in a decades-long tug-of-war over control of the school. At the chosen location, the Teachers Academy elementary school likely would siphon children from the main South Loop building, which is situated in the middle-income community of Dearborn Park.

The board has not selected a site for the Teachers Academy high school, which is to serve 600 students and open in fall 2002.

While neighborhood children are to attend the academy schools, the School Board wants these schools to be governed by an appointed board rather than elected local school councils. “We don’t think an LSC would be appropriate for this school,” says Buckney. “It will not be like a regular public school. Teachers will probably be required to work eight-hour days. Colleges of education will be involved. We think a governing board is more appropriate.”

In March, the administration presented the School Board with a “draft” resolution calling for a board that would include two parents, two members of the corporate community, Buckney, CPS Chief of Staff Diane Grigsby Jackson, Chicago Teachers Union President Thomas Reece, Golden Apple Foundation founder Martin “Mike” Koldyke and Victoria Chou, chair of the Council of Chicago Area Deans of Education. However, the Illinois General Assembly refused to advance legislation giving the School Board authority to appoint such an academy board.

“This school is still going to open,” says Buckney. “It’s not moving anywhere in Springfield, so we’ll just explore other routes like a charter or an alternative school.”

The board’s proposed legislation also ran afoul of the Chicago Teachers Union for seeking exemptions from the collective bargaining agreement and the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act. “The original language was unpalatable to us,” says Jackie Gallagher, the union’s spokesperson. “We’ve been working on this concept for years, and this language seemed to exclude teachers.”

Says Buckney: “We’ll have a side waiver agreement with the union. We will use union teachers.”

UIC also has seen its role shift. Initially, other universities were angry that UIC had been singled out. Then, UIC found itself left out of planning meetings after balking at making commitments without having details of the Academy nailed down, according to sources who asked not to be identified.

“We plan on working with as many colleges of education there are out there,” says Buckney. “We encourage UIC as well as other universities for input.”

In March, board administrators met with the Council of Chicago Area Deans of Education to discuss the board’s plan to have pre-service teachers attend both the academy and their college programs concurrently.

“Maybe they go through two or three years with us,” says Buckney. “Maybe students are at the academy three or four hours a day or for half the day. We don’t know yet.”

Administrators also are meeting with officials of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a state boarding school for gifted high school students, to decide how to use a $4 million federal grant they won to produce more math and science teachers.

“They will probably train our folks in math and science and, prior to the academy opening, talk about developing and creating a curriculum,” says Diane Zendejas, director of the CPS Teachers Academy for Professional Development.

In the meantime, the locus of the board’s planning has moved from a largely external group that included officials of UIC and Golden Apple, among others, to an in-house working committee headed by John Frantz, officer of curriculum, instruction and professional development.

“I have a lot of confidence that John will pull this project together,” says Peg Cain, executive director of Golden Apple. “I have been very pleased with this team so far.”

So far, CPS has focused on pre-service education. It wants to produce 170 new teachers the first year; those going through the program would have to pledge to work in CPS for a given amount of time. The Chicago Teachers Union would like the academy to help with inservice education of teachers, too, particularly those interested in applying for national certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

“The academy will be an intro for what the year will be like if they go through the [national] board process,” says Molly Carroll of the CTU. “After their [academy] training is over, they can go back to their home school and hopefully go through the NBPTS.”

The school board shares the goal of increasing the number of nationally certified teachers in CPS. Indeed, it wants all academy faculty members to apply within a couple years of coming on board.

“We know it’s a demanding program, so we are looking into giving teachers stipends as an incentive to go through the process,” says Buckney. “And because teachers will take on more duties than they do normally most likely teaching in a classroom for part of the day and mentoring new teachers for another part—we’re also exploring using a different pay scale for them.”

However, Chicago teachers who have gone through the national certification process suggest the board would still be asking too much.

“I’m glad they have a vision of teacher training,” says Margie Rogasner, a 1st-grade bilingual teacher at Jordan Elementary who received national certification last year. “But this is ambitious. When you go through the national board, you have to say no to everything else because it is so rigorous. With so much being asked of teachers, I’d be afraid they’d burn out. And even if you tell them they’ve got a few years before they have to go through the process, a new school is usually five years of growing pains. It’s still a lot for teachers to handle.”

The academy schools will need a total of 82 teachers. Buckney says that for starters, 10 teachers will be sought from each of the school system’s six regions.