Pairings complete, action plans in

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By early February, all 109 schools placed on academic probation last September had been assigned probation managers and external partners, according to the Office of Accountability.

Two new groups had become external partners—the Illinois Resource Center, paired with Farragut High, and the Education Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, paired with Jungman Elementary and Salazar Bilingual Education Center.

Also, all 109 schools had submitted corrective action plans—only a handful had made the original Jan. 13 deadline. Only six or seven schools were asked to make revisions.

Managers, principals start tinkering

In January and February, Catalyst contacted several probation managers and principals for an early report on their activity. Here’s what they said.

Cardenas Elementary

Probation co-manager Patricia Jones, principal of St. Agnes of Bohemia

“Cardenas is right down the street from us. We are getting kids from the same neighborhood. … Some of our students have come from Cardenas, and the first thing we notice is that they don’t have sufficient [English] language.”

Cardenas, in South Lawndale, enrolls some 800 students in prekindergarten through 3rd grade; all but a handful are Hispanic, with 68 percent classified as having limited English proficiency (LEP).

“At our school, by Christmas, kids are speaking English in kindergarten,” says Jones. “By lst grade, they are writing English. We speak English to them at school; they get their Spanish at home.”

Initially, says Jones, the school is concentrating on the 35 youngsters who are eligible to take the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills—schools where less than 15 percent of eligible test-takers scored at or above the national average in reading were placed on probation. Few Cardenas students are eligible because School Board policy exempts students who have been in bilingual education fewer than three years.

“In the short term, we are working to boost that group of kids,” she says. “In the long term, we will work on boosting the language of the other students.”

So far, St. Agnes has lent a hand with tutoring. Three days a week, for an hour, three teachers from the Catholic school work with 12 students each from the public school. And St. Agnes students are being paired with Cardenas students for additional tutoring and mentoring. Further, the St. Agnes students will call their partners at 7 o’clock every evening to see if they have questions about their homework.

“The student knows that call is coming and should have homework completed and questions prepared,” says Jones. “The parents will have been told about the hotline and should make sure their child is at home at 7 p.m. and is prepared to take the call.”

“We have been able to do all this because we have established trust between us,” she explains. “We all have flaws, none of our schools are perfect, and we need to support each other. Sylvia Ortiz-Revollo [Cardenas’ principal] has nothing to be ashamed of. I don’t see myself as a God Almighty Inspector. I don’t know everything, but I think I can be helpful.”

Jones says she visits Cardenas every Tuesday afternoon, “sitting in on classrooms for half an hour and doing other things.”

Parkman Elementary

Probation manager Betty Green, principal of Herzl

“I think I was asked to pair up with Parkman because we are both using Direct Instruction. … I found a disciplined, hard-working staff. I think the difference between us is that my staff has been doing D.I. a lot longer and has had more training. [Parkman is] just getting started, but I think D.I. will make a difference for them this year.”

Green says her teachers will serve as models and helpers for Parkman teachers. She plans to spend half of the board’s $10,000 resource allotment on substitute teachers, who free Herzl and Parkman teachers to visit each others’ classrooms, and the other half to pay teachers to stay after school for staff development, she says.

Green says she is “always on the phone” with Parkman but visits the school only once a week. “I have to spent a lot of time at my school because I have one large building and a separate child-parent center. Besides, I think once a week is enough time or you’re in the way. The administration feels obliged to be a ‘good host,’ and that takes away time from what they should be doing.”

Kohn Elementary

Probation manager Albert Foster, principal of Metcalfe

“Our demographics are the same, so I figured if they modeled us they could improve,” he says. “Not that we’re perfect, but our scores are not bad.”

Foster says he has walked the building, met with the staff, helped with the school’s corrective action plan and made suggestions, such as replicating his school’s extended day program, which ends at 6 p.m. Kohn is extending its program to 4:30 p.m.

Corliss High School

Probation manager Laura Murray, superintendent Homewood-Flossmoor High School District

Murray has been spending two days a week at Corliss, as well as some evenings and weekends. She also communicates by mail and is learning how to communicate electronically. “How do I do this job? I have a huge number of unused vacation days,” she says, adding, “You have to be a workaholic.”

In addition, Edith Sims-Davis, who recently retired as principal, has been helping out while the local school council searches for a successor. The school also is in line for an operations manager, who will allow the new principal to concentrate on academics, not day-to-day operations.

Murray says the school’s corrective action plan—drawn up with the help of external partner Barbara Radner of DePaul University—targets security and truancy for early action. For one, all students will be encouraged to participate in sports.

Harlan High School

Barbara Valerious, principal of Chicago Ag School

“How do you get high school teachers to become reading teachers?” That’s the first challenge that Harlan’s probation team is taking up, says Valerious. “It is expected that students know how to read when they enter high school, but that is not what is happening. We’re examining that.”

Valerious says she intends to spend her $10,000 resource allocation on sending her staff to help out at Harlan. For instance, her programmer has been assisting Harlan’s new programmer.

At press time, Harlan also was without a principal. “Barbara Edwards has been on sick leave since before Christmas,” reports Valerious, “but I talk to her on the phone just about every night. I met her over the summer and have been very impressed with her.”

Chase Elementary

Principal Mary Mack

Chase is among the schools asked to revise their corrective action plans. “We were told we weren’t specific enough and needed to make some revisions,” Mack reports. “But they [Office of Accountability] weren’t specific on what we needed to be specific about.

For instance, the team’s report said my leadership was not addressed, but I don’t know what that means. And it said we didn’t address discipline, but I thought we didn’t have to address everything, just the things we thought we could do quickly. We got our plan back on a Monday and were told to get revisions back to Accountability by Thursday.”

The plan was finally accepted and will be submitted for approval at the Board’s monthly meeting in February.

Chase’s probation co-managers and external partner are one in the same: David Green and Bernard Spillman, of the School Change and Inquiry Program at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Their first contribution will be preparation of a computer portfolio on the school—”who we are and what we’re doing,” says Mack.

The first programmatic focus is English and reading. Mack says money will be redirected from the summer school program to an after-school program.

Hartigan Elementary

Principal Betty Greer

“We were very pleased we were paired with Lula Ford [Director of School Leadership Development]. I knew her when she was at Beethoven. She worked in a setting very similar to ours. She met with us over the Christmas holidays and asked us what kind of support we needed. She has a follow-up person who is also supportive.”

Greer says that initially the staff was intimidated by Ford and it took several meetings to gain acceptance of the idea that probation should be viewed strictly as a challenge.

Lathrop Elementary

Principal Georgia Hudson

She says that probation manager Robert Deckinga, a principal mentor in the Office of Accountability, “is everywhere. He’s in the classroom. He talks to the janitor. He talks to the clerk. He’s all over the place.”

In his conversation with the clerk, says Hudson, he learned of difficulties with the school’s paper supplier and then suggested another company “who gave us a better deal.”

“Also, he’s let us know that he’ll be watching. If people need to be [removed], it will happen, from the principal on down. He made that clear the first meeting.”

Hudson says she was disappointed about being on probation but that the process “has helped propel us.”