Students vet new teachers at Fenger

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Teachers and administrators seeking to land a job at turnaround target Fenger High School are being vetted in an unusual way: students are grilling them, either speed dating style or with questions fashioned after the game show Jeopardy.

To find students to participate, Donald Fraynd, who oversees the district’s high school turnarounds, reached out to Mikva Challenge, a youth-oriented civic engagement nonprofit and asked them to convene a group of teens to interview finalists for educator positions.

Fenger joins Harper and Orr high school in undergoing a turnaround, which entails firing all the teachers and staff and making them reapply for their jobs, as well as rolling out new curriculum and programming.

The CPS turnaround team is particularly interested in students’ opinions on whether teacher and administrator candidates, old and new, will work well with students, says Cianna Ashton, a program director for Mikva Challenge. The reason for this extra layer of vetting stems from this year’s experience at Harper, where some new staffers have had problems connecting with students, says Ashton.

Teachers and administrators seeking to land a job at turnaround target Fenger High School are being vetted in an unusual way: students are grilling them, either speed dating style or with questions fashioned after the game show Jeopardy.

To find students to participate, Donald Fraynd, who oversees the district’s high school turnarounds, reached out to Mikva Challenge, a youth-oriented civic engagement nonprofit and asked them to convene a group of teens to interview finalists for educator positions.

Fenger joins Harper and Orr high school in undergoing a turnaround, which entails firing all the teachers and staff and making them reapply for their jobs, as well as rolling out new curriculum and programming.

The CPS turnaround team is particularly interested in students’ opinions on whether teacher and administrator candidates, old and new, will work well with students, says Cianna Ashton, a program director for Mikva Challenge. The reason for this extra layer of vetting stems from this year’s experience at Harper, where some new staffers have had problems connecting with students, says Ashton.

Students have identified five issues they want to hear candidates respond to: violence, security; their vision for the new Fenger; their education philosophy and strategies for classroom management. They have also written skits that they will perform and ask candidates how they would handle those situations. After each interview, students share their impressions with one member of the turnaround team.

Ashton teamed up with Fenger’s librarian to recruit a student group that includes both high performers and troublemakers. Student will receive a token stipend.

Interviews began a few weeks ago and are expected to run through May. Ashton says students are enthusiastic about their task. “It makes them feel more connected to the process.”

She notes, however, that Fenger teachers who have to face students to win back their jobs seem to be “lukewarm” about the process.

— Sarah Karp