Meanwhile, at Gage Park

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Privatization has been the biggest news at Gage Park High School his past year, and Principal Audrey Donaldson is very happy with the results.

The reading center run by the for-profit company Sylvan Learning Systems is a smashing success, she says. School Board officials apparently agree; in early May, Phillip Hansen, intervention director in the Office of Accountability, led 25 principals on a tour of it. Now, Sylvan is talking with at least 15 more Chicago schools about contracts for next year, Donaldson reports.

After a shaky start, the School Reform Board’s privatized maintenance system is working well. At first, Donaldson had a hard time getting a response from the property advisor the board appointed. Then, in April, the board hired John Lewis to oversee the property advisor, and Donaldson soon saw big improvements. The advisor re-trained custodial staff to keep Gage Park’s halls gleaming. Also, Lewis saw to it that electricity was quickly restored after an outage.

Meanwhile, Gage Park is planning to boost both education and discipline with added computer power next year; the school plans to spend over $160,000 on computer hardware and software. Most classrooms will get “mini-labs” with six computers each; these machines, Donaldson hopes, will be networked schoolwide and may let students access the Internet.

Other new equipment will turn student ID cards into “badges,” with bar codes that will allow staff to summon up a wealth of information—including schedules and discipline records—at the push of a button. Entering a student’s name into a computer, Donaldson says, would bring up a full record, including a picture.

And, at long last, the board has scheduled major rehab work, including a new roof, tuckpointing, lead abatement and more. Unfortunately for Gage Park, the school didn’t learn until late May that all the work will be done this summer, which most likely will mean shutting down Gage Park’s building for the season. Donaldson wonders where summer school and 8th-grade bridge program might be held. She hopes that her office will remain open, so that administrative work—like slotting students into their fall classes—can still be done in time for the new school year to start smoothly.

“Emotions are very mixed,” says Donaldson, “because these are things that have needed to be done for the last 20 years. … A lot of these things I’ve been asking for all year, and it never, never occurred to me that we’d be closed down to get it all done.”