Schools win cash to implement innovative ideas

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The Chicago Public Education Fund announced Tuesday that five schools will receive as much as $10,000 to seed projects that teams of principals and teachers came up with over the summer.

The Chicago Academy High School plans to motivate students by giving them information about their GPA and ACT scores and using goal setting technology. Namaste Charter School plans to give 7th-graders individual mentors and will see whether they have better results than peers not in the program.

The other schools—Haines, Budlong and Spencer—will either use technology to individualize learning or work with specific grades to have the students design their own lesson plans.

 Forty schools applied to be part of the Summer Design Program. Of those, 16 were chosen to participate.

“The goal was to engage educators in the process of innovation,” says Patrick Haugh, vice president of Schools and Instruction at the Fund, rather than bring in innovations from elsewhere.

That, he said, is time-consuming, costly and many don’t trust outside innovations.

The project started on July 10, when the teams met at the Booth School of Business at University of Chicago to brain storm the biggest problems in their schools and find innovative solutions. Then, for the next five weeks, participants attended workshops with education experts and design consultants from regional and national organizations.

Unique process for CPS schools

“The process was a unique one,” said Dan Kramer, principal of Carl Schurz High School, “and it was something that my team felt like – this is the right way. Having the work sessions with the consultants they brought in was really terrific, and it really became a professional learning opportunity.”

At the first workshop, the Schurz team threw out ideas for professional development, technology in the classroom, and sustainability in a longer-term plan. Since Schurz is a large school, the team knew that the diversity of their students and staff meant a huge variety of tech knowledge. They wanted to close that knowledge gap so teachers with less tech experience would feel more comfortable using online tools in the classroom.

The team from South Shore Fine Arts Academy wanted to stop wasting the time it took for teachers to administer and process the assessments – four district-mandated and 11 teacher-created a year. They brainstormed how they could make up for the loss of instruction time while teachers were administering assessments.

Teams met again with the Fund on July 11 and July 29. Meanwhile, they worked with their teams on their own, writing up new drafts of proposals and finalizing their plans by August 6, when they made presentations at the Booth School.

Forced collaboration appreciated

Most teams’ ideas were widely different from the ideas they brought to the first workshop.

Schurz High School expanded on its original ideas by planning a system where teachers are assessed in tech knowledge at the beginning of the year, and then connected to professional development, self-selected online tutorials, mentorships, and partnerships, all embedded within the school day.

The team from John C. Coonley Elementary School proposed a plan to foster a deeper interest and understanding of non-fiction by incorporating online journals in science.

South Shore Fine Arts team members solved their time-wasting problems by integrating testing into instruction time. By using an online adaptive learning system called iReady, they brought together common core, growth measures, and individualized instruction.

Heather Duncan, pre-K teacher at South Shore, appreciated the forced collaboration.

“You spend a lot of time as a single adult with a bunch of children,” she says, “and you’re focused on them and what you need to get done, especially in this high-stakes testing world. So even in our school, where we do a lot of cooperating and meeting, it’s easy to get caught up in our own classroom.”

As a welcoming school for students from recently closed schools, South Shore had an additional challenge.  Since the new students would be dealing with a tough transition, they decided to pilot their innovation on classrooms with the fewest new kids, in pre-K, kindergarten, 3rd and 6th grades.

Heather Anichini, president of the Fund, was impressed by the energy the teams brought to the presentations. Even more exciting, she saw educators from very diverse schools engaging with educators they normally wouldn’t get to talk to — about their school similarities and the resources and support they could share.

“We started out with the assumption,” she said, “that as a city, we continue to be challenged by the fact that there are not enough schools putting students on track to a high- quality public education. we wanted to bring together educators that were thinking about that problem, really thinking about how to transform student learning in their schools and in their classrooms.”