CPS wins federal grants for high school initiatives

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Chicago Public Schools will use a $14.9 million federal grant to create a
program focused on bringing dropouts back and helping students on the
edge of getting a high school diploma to finish up. Chicago Public Schools will use a $14.9 million federal grant to create a program focused on bringing dropouts back and helping students on the edge of getting a high school diploma to finish up.

The grant will pay for Acceleration Institutes at Marshall and Harper high schools, both of which are part of CPS’ Turnaround Strategy. In turnarounds, the district fires all teachers and administrators and makes them reapply for their jobs.

Mayor Daley and CPS officials announced Tuesday at Ravenswood Elementary School that the district recently won this grant and two others totaling $58.8 million. The news comes after Education Secretary Arne Duncan passed over the city’s community groups and CPS in awarding two bigger grant initiatives, Race to the Top and Promise Neighborhoods.

The largest of the grants, a $34 million award from the Teacher Incentive Fund focuses on elementary education in predominantly low-income neighborhoods.  The grant, which includes a merit pay component, will support a five-year effort, expected to touch 1,100 teachers at 25 schools. The schools targeted will be identified as “high need” and experiencing high teacher turnover. 

CPS also received a $9.9 million Smaller Learning Communities grant. The goal is to create intimate learning environments within big neighborhood high schools. Already several high schools, including Manley and Clemente, have small learning communities.

The Acceleration Institutes are a novel idea, intended to touch an often ignored group of students. The first set of students that will be serviced are those with just a few credits needed to graduate.

These students are often fifth-year seniors and, in the past, schools would have to enroll them in an entire schedule of classes in order for them to make up just one or two credits, says Don Fraynd, head of CPS Turnarounds. Discouraged, these students sometimes never complete the courses and wind up being dropouts.

In the institute, students can get the specific courses they need through online courses with a teacher guiding them.

School staff also are going to go out, find dropouts and try to convince them to come back to school. A selling point will be that, in the institutes, students can get their diploma quicker, Fraynd says.

The institutes will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. so they will be flexible enough to fit around the schedules of students. It will have a director, teachers and a counselor. The institutes will also be partners with organizations who can help students with social, emotional issues and offer job training or post-secondary guidance.

“We think the Acceleration Institutes will radically improve our graduation rate,” Fraynd says.

The grant will be spread over five years. Fraynd says he’s hoping that after five years, the turnaround high schools have improved enough that they don’t have so many students who have dropped out or need credit recovery.