This spring, state law established the Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees and directed it to assume control of the Chicago public school system. The new board was to expand on the educational progress made since the Chicago School Reform Act of 1988 and bring fiscal stability to the district.
Principal Snyder offers an update on the projects where Gale is getting School Board help:
The extension of after-school Park District programming. (Frazier is sending a letter today, asking board staff to follow up.)
The space the school is planning to rent from Good News Church. (It won’t be ready as soon as the school had hoped, so there will be more classroom juggling in the next month.)
The plans for Gale’s annex, which at the moment has no architect. About the architect, says Snyder, “It’s gonna be fine. Ben Reyes’s top assistant will get back to me. We’re gonna get there. We’re at the top of that list!” She then reviews the construction plans so far: one building across Marshfield Street, to the west of the school; a covered bridge over the street; and a second building, right next to the school on the Marshfield side.
To begin with, the board took a $3 million increase in money the state appropriated for prekindergarten programs for “at-risk” youngsters and used it to help balance the school system’s general operating budget. That’s legal under legislation passed last May that took the strings off much of Chicago’s school revenue; state pre-k money now comes to Chicago as part of a block grant. If the $3 million had been used as originally intended, it could have brought sorely needed preschool education to close to 1,000 3- and 4-year-olds, leaving “only” 11,000 unserved.
Last school year, 175 schools budgeted Chapter 1 money for kindergarten programs, according to an analysis by the Chicago Panel on School Policy. The budgets indicate that most are using the money to convert half-day programs into full-day programs, says Todd Rosenkranz, a budget analyst for the Panel.
In 1988, a survey by the Chicago Sun-Times found that most kindergartners could not, among other things, speak in complete sentences or say their first and last names. The survey was updated in 1994, with similar findings.
Now, a study by Board of Education researchers suggests that the problem is getting worse.
Researchers compiled comparative scores on school readiness tests for some 8,600 preschoolers, from 1987-88 and 1994-95; 6,400 were in state prekindergartens at 78 schools, and 2,200 were in the district’s 24 child-parent centers.
PRINCIPALS The following acting, interim and assistant principals have received full principal contracts: Myron Berger, Near North Special Ed.; Lona Bibbs, Westinghouse High; Barbara Ellis, Bennett/Shedd; Cheryl Rutherford, Lindblom High. … The following have received interim principal contracts: Debrona Banks, Tilton; Lester Gaines, Curtis; Glennvester Garrett, Lewis; Alice Painter, Hope; Rodolfo Serna, Corkery/Whitney. … Teachers Janice Hill and Carol Miller have received assistant principal contracts at Gompers and Mitchell, respectively. … Principal James Crowe has resigned from McCormick Elementary.
Half are seeking planning grants, and half are seeking implementation grants. A total of $3 million will be distributed. Each of the letters of intent was reviewed by five members of the grant program’s Reform Collaborative, a body of 23 school reform activists.
Networks that were not selected for further consideration were invited to revamp their letters of intent and resubmit them in 1996. Guidelines for 1996 grants will be distributed near the end of this year.
To that end, the first, and perhaps most important, challenge was to develop a budget that not only allowed schools to open on time in September, but also addressed the district’s structural imbalance between revenues and expenditures. The seemingly annual budget crises of the school system resulted from the district having long-term expenditure commitments that exceeded its long-term revenue sources.
Since 1990, deficits resulting from this imbalance were papered over with fund transfers and the use of one-time revenues, enabling schools to open in the fall but also condemning the district to year-to-year subsistence, with the budget hole reappearing at the end of each fiscal year. That approach emphasized the short term over the long term, often aggravating the long-term financial picture for the district. This board has brought new thinking.
“It is very difficult to convince state or even federal government to put money on the prevention end, especially in a conservative climate,” observes Shelly Peck, public education and advocacy coordinator for the Family Resource Coalition. “What Missouri has done is very difficult, especially in times of budget cuts and people not wanting to pay higher taxes.”
Ethel Washington, clinic coordinator, Center for Successful Child Development, Robert Taylor Homes.
Nationwide, the push for school readiness has focused on preschool programs for kids. However, a small but growing number of programs zero in on parents as their children’s first teachers.
And while Illinois has a foot in the door of this movement, other states have surged ahead.
“Development and learning are so rapid in those first few years of life, when the home is the school and parents are the teachers,” notes Mildred Winters, director of Parents as Teachers National Center in St. Louis. “Knowing what we know about the critical nature of the early years in determining what the child ultimately will become, it makes so much sense to invest in getting children off to a good start. It’s far less expensive and far more productive than trying to fix it later on.”
The report offers these pointers for judging the quality of primary classrooms.
1. Does the curriculum integrate learning in all areas through projects, learning centers and playful activities?
2. Do teachers and children work together to develop projects and activities that build on children’s current interests?
3. Are a variety of learning materials available, including objects children can manipulate and experiment with?
4. Do children spend large
Now Kohl has switched the focus of the award and teamed up with the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation to launch the Kohl/McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Award. The award is intended to increase public awareness of the importance of providing quality education from birth to age 8.
The competition is open to teachers from the six-county Chicago metro area who teach in public, private or parochial schools, preschools, day care centers, Head Starts or family child-care homes.
Five teachers will each receive $5,000 cash awards and an interactive educational program designed by the Kohl Children’s Museum.
Erikson “truly changed the way we teach school here,” says Harold Zimmerman, principal of Murphy Elementary in Irving Park. For one, the school scrapped basal reading textbooks and equipped classrooms with large libraries of children’s literature. Primary-grade children no longer receive letter grades; instead, teachers write an extensive narrative report on each child’s progress.
INTERACTION BETWEEN STAFF AND PARENTS Programs cannot adequately meet the needs of children unless they recognize the importance of the child’s family and develop strategies to work effectively with them. Staff are asked to have a written statement of philosophy readily available to parents at all times. Also, staff are encouraged to organize pre-enrollment visits and parent orientation meetings, and create a written or verbal system that shares day-to-day happenings of children with their parents.
PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT Age-appropriate materials and equipment should be readily accessible to children and arranged on low, open shelves to promote independent use. Children are more likely to use materials that are accessible to them.
Both teachers made the changes after conducting thorough self-appraisals as part of their schools’ bids for accreditation from the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs, an arm of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
The self-study is the hardest part of the accreditation process, teachers say, because it forces them to look closely at how they do their jobs.
The transfer was made in 1991 and 1992 because of forecasts that teacher salary increases would put the schools’ Head Start programs increasingly in the red. As it turned out, salaries did not rise as projected. That development, along with problems in finding and preparing community sites, prompted the Board of Education and the city, which oversees Head Start locally, to drop plans for the third and final phase of the transfer.
So far, the findings support the view that preschool, in and of itself, is no magic bullet; quality education in the primary grades is just as important for raising the school achievement of disadvantaged youngsters.
Launched in 1965, child-parent centers (CPCs) are the cream of Chicago’s preschool crop. Located in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, they feature smaller classes, teacher aides in every classroom, ongoing teacher training, a head teacher and mandatory parent involvement activities.
1991 survey of the mothers who were in Avance’s first class found dramatic results. In 1973, 91 percent were high school dropouts. By 1991:
57 percent had returned to school or gotten G.E.D.s.
64 percent of those who completed high school or G.E.D.s had gone on to college or technical schools.
94 percent of these mothers’ children had completed high school, gotten G.E.D.s or were still in high school.
43 percent of the children who finished high school had gone on to college.
Chicago’s state prekindergarten program currently has 35 teachers with bilingual certificates, and another 31 teachers without bilingual certification who teach non-English-speaking students, says Alice Moss, state prekindergarten manager. Under House Bill 668, those 31 teachers would be required to obtain bilingual certification by the year 2000.
“Any school that asked, we included in the proposal,” says Velma Thomas, director of early childhood education. “I don’t think we’ve ever gotten what we asked for, but it’s important to show the need.”
Instead, the department ended up with $39.7 million—about $3 million more than last year. But the new school administration used the increase to help balance the general operating budget, taking advantage of new block-grant funding from the state. (For an explanation of block grants, see CATALYST, September 1995.) As a result, Chicago won’t open any new state prekindergartens this year.