WebExtra: Will four times be the charm?

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Orr High School has been targeted for wholesale reform several times over the past 10 years, and one of the small high schools created by those attempts, Mose Vines Academy, is currently participating in yet another program aimed at improving student performance.

This time, the tool is schoolwide turnaround, a strategy tested over the past couple years at two elementary schools in Englewood that involves replacing the principal, teachers and other school staff while allowing students to remain enrolled. Orr and Harper High, also tagged for turnaround, will be the first high schools to try this approach.

Despite repeated attempts, performance at Orr has remained stubbornly at the bottom. At best, only 13 percent of students at one of Orr’s small schools met state standards.

September 1997: Orr is one of seven high schools slated for reconstitution, which required faculty to reapply for their jobs, and in some cases, installed new leadership. At Orr, Principal Cynthia Felton is replaced by an elementary school principal, Joyce Johnson of DuBois.

April 2002: District officials tag Orr as one of three low-performing high schools that will be broken up into small schools with funding from the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative, an $18 million effort seeded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Eventually, Orr is broken into four smaller schools: Applied Art, Science and Technology Academy (A.A.S.T.A.); EXCEL Academy; Mose Vines and Phoenix Military Academy, which moved out of Orr into a new school location.

September 2006: Mose Vines, one of Orr’s small high schools, joins High School Transformation, an improvement initiative that tackles instruction and academic rigor with new curricula and teacher training.

January 2008: Orr is slated for turnaround and will be converted into a teacher training academy run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, which is already charged with turning around two elementary schools in Englewood. All three of Orr’s small high schools will be consolidated into one large school, a return its original structure.