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After reading your recent issue of Catalyst focusing on the transformation of the Chicago Housing Authority (April 2001: CHA Commuter Kids), it is apparent that there is an important story not yet been told. The Chicago Public School district has been working to address the negative effects of high student mobility on the academic achievement and well-being of all students in school with high mobility rates. Student mobility is based upon the number of students transferring in or out of a school after October 1 of a school year, divided by the October 1st membership that year.

Research suggests that students who are highly mobile, as well as students who are in classrooms where there is high student mobility, are negatively impacted by frequent mobility transitions that distract students’ focus on learning. The Chicago Public Schools Office of School and Community Relations is working with schools and communities to increase awareness of this issue in order to ease transition of unavoidable student transfers and where possible, minimize unnecessary transfers.

According to CHA planning documents, more than six thousand households will be re-located from public housing during the first five years of this century. This is an average of 1,200 families each year. Your article creates the impression that, because research has established no significant difference in students’ test scores and dropout rates, the stress of accommodating such major changes in lives of CHA residents and others who move frequently is not significant. While it is true that many CHA buildings are being torn down or remodeled in an effort to provide better accommodations for those families living in public housing, the challenges of such personal upheaval may be overwhelming without support systems in place to help ease the transition.

As you may know, the Chicago Board of Education, in partnership with the Chicago Panel on School Policy, has produced Staying Put: A Mobility Awareness Action Plan and material to distribute to parents and educators. At the request of Paul Vallas, the Chief Executive Officer, my office began to incorporate the “Staying Put” material into its on-going training for LSCs and into technical support for schools experiencing high rates of student mobility. My office has been working to make Local School Council members more aware of the negative effects of high student mobility on the well-being of children and their families.

At our request, the Office of Accountability, Department of Compliance, has been working with us to identify schools with highest mobility rates city-wide and by region. My office provided regional rank-order mobility to each of the Regional Education Officers, along with the “Staying Put” plan and sample materials. We have mailed action plans and brochures to the attention of every principal and LSC chairperson. My staff and I made follow-up presentations to the January regional principals’ meetings to discuss the impact of high mobility on the lives of their students and the availability of technical support for schools or clusters of schools to compensate and possibly reduce high rates of student mobility. Information and technical support has been offered to the schools most likely to be impacted by the “transformation” of public housing in Chicago.

LSC regional facilitators have used the mobility awareness material to enrich the mandated LSC training lessons that cover the use of demographics in school planning and budgeting. Barbara Buell, the Executive Director of the Chicago Panel on School Policy, has been invited to make several presentations at city-wide workshops since November for LSC members. We are planning to continue to focus public attention on the student mobility issue through various media, including cable television.

As your publication mentioned, there are a number of strategies that school communities have used that can ease student transfers or minimize unnecessary transfers. At present, the school district has a number of options under consideration for those schools impacted by public housing relocations. Among the alternatives under consideration is developing or strengthening partnerships with community agencies in a manner that takes advantage of the soon-to-be available space and staff in neighborhood public school due to declining enrollment caused by the closing of local public housing units.

The CHA has outlined a transition for CHA residents that involves provisions for extensive human resource development services, including career counseling and preparation for CHA families being relocated. These services could be delivered to CHA residents in the public schools standing in the shadow of the CHA transition. Impacted public schools could be transformed into learning centers for parents and community members. Adults could receive training and counseling services that support their transition to new housing, jobs and living adjustments in the same building where their children are attending school.

The community colleges and other agencies have already indicated an interest in collaborating to provide adult education and other “family literacy” services to parents in the neighborhood schools where there is interest in such programs. Education, health, and career programs could be available if community agencies agree to operate satellite offices in the schools. Many schools currently house services offered by outside agencies. This type of school/community partnership could benefit any school facing high student mobility. Schools impacted by the CHA’s forced relocation of their students can look to community partnerships and collaborations to stabilize the environment for the children they serve.

In the era of “school reform” these initiatives are locally controlled. The school district stands ready to help, but each school community must act locally to stabilize its own neighborhood. Parents, children, and the schools need the support of media people like yourself to get word out, to create an awareness of both the mobility challenge to student achievement, and positive community responses to address the issue.