If at first you don’t succeed… turnaround and go big

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Fenger High and one of the small schools on the Bowen campus got the official word on Friday: Lights out.

Fenger will become a turnaround school overseen by the district’s Office of School Turnarounds. Global Visions at Bowen will be consolidated with New Millennium, possibly signaling the beginning of the end of Bowen’s small schools effort.

Fenger High and one of the small schools on the Bowen campus got the official word on Friday: Lights out.

Fenger will become a turnaround school overseen by the district’s Office of School Turnarounds. Global Visions at Bowen will be consolidated with New Millennium, possibly signaling the beginning of the end of Bowen’s small schools effort. It’s the fifth effort at improving Bowen; at Fenger, it’s at least the third.

In Fenger’s case, the district didn’t wait to see if three years under High School Transformation would bear fruit, at least in terms of test scores. This spring, Fenger’s juniors—the first class to participate in transformation since its launch—will take the Prairie State Achievement Exam. Their scores, and those of juniors at the other 13 schools that joined transformation when it was first rolled out three years ago, will bear watching to see the impact of improved curriculum and additional teacher training at some of the city’s lowest-performing, toughest high schools.

Fenger students who took the Prairie State last year, and had been in transformation for two years, had the worst results in recent years. Only 2.5 percent met or exceeded state standards overall.

The turnaround program won’t be the first time CPS has tried to improve Fenger, in Roseland. In 1996, Fenger was put on academic probation and embarked on a project called Integrated Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum, which provided coaches in core subject areas to work with faculty. After showing some initial improvement, test scores and other indicators began to slide. In 2004, the board fired the principal and brought in William Johnson.

Then, in 2006, Fenger was one of the first group of high schools to join the transformation effort. The district used funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch the transformation initiative, although schools had to contribute some of their own cash. (Catalyst estimates that over three years, the district will have spent a total of some $80 million on the effort.) The first two turnaround high schools, Orr and Harper, are continuing to use the transformation curriculum.

Last year, Johnson got a grant to launch small learning communities, in which groups of students take the same classes and remain together throughout high school. The goal: help students bond with each other and teachers. Johnson’s future under the turnaround is uncertain.

When Orr went into Transformation, a new principal, Jammie Poole, was brought in; at Harper, Kenyatta Stansberry-Butler stayed on, joined by co-principal Liz Dozier.

At Bowen, the consolidation of Global Visions and New Millennium is just the latest chapter in a long-running small schools/big school saga.

Bowen was a pioneer in the small schools movement, offering schools-within-a-school as early as 1992. In 1996, with no substantial improvement in test scores, Bowen was placed on probation. In 2000, Bowen was selected for intervention, and CPS dismantled the small schools and sent in outside experts to spur improvements. Teachers were disgusted, and some 35 quit.

Two years later, Arne Duncan scrapped intervention, and Bowen became a campus with four small schools. Chicago Discovery, with a focus on fine arts and architecture, and Bowen Environmental Studies Team opened in 2002. Global Visions, with a focus on technology, opened the following year. The New Millennium School of Health opened in 2004.