Only game in town

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Posted February 18, 2008–Before coming to Chicago last year to head the High School Transformation initiative, Allan Alson served as superintendent of Evanston Township High School District, a one-school district. When he took over Chicago’s high school reform effort, Alson says he was surprised by the large number of students who register late in Chicago’s low-performing high schools.

Latecomers were just not an issue in Evanston, where Evanston Township is the only game in town. To estimate how many freshmen are likely to show up in any given school year, officials merely have to check the graduating classes at the five middle schools that feed into it.

A handful of freshmen trickle in from private and parochial schools, but the high school identifies these students nearly a year in advance by visiting the schools and meeting with parents, says Principal Marilyn Madden.

The high school district goes beyond just getting freshmen pre-registered for school, and uses data from standardized tests and input from parents and educators to get information on students’ academic skills and interests. In January, nearly nine months before incoming 9th graders begin high school, Evanston Township invites parents to pick up packets of information on courses, kicking off the process of class scheduling.

Evanston Township offers a summer academic bridge program to students who need to learn study skills and catch up in reading or math. Another program for incoming freshmen identifies those who had truancy or discipline issues and sends social workers to their homes. Once students are in 9th grade, a freshman-level course teaches them what it takes to succeed in high school.