‘Forget the athletic fields, we need another building’

The lottery’s twin goals demand a balance of sacrifices from both the school and local families. Each year, hundreds of students are sent miles away to less crowded schools like Tilden and Harlan. To both ease and share the pain, Gage accepts more students than its building is supposed to serve. Built for about 1,250, Gage enrolls almost 1,450 students this year. Teachers shoulder much of the burden by accepting classes that are packed a little fuller than their union contract allows.

DuSable’s 8-year journey toward small schools

Roughly 80 percent of DuSable’s students resided in the Robert Taylor Homes, located in one of the nation’s three most poverty-stricken communities. Many were and still are poorly prepared, poorly motivated and poorly informed about the potential of education to empower them. Over the years, no more than 65 percent have attended school regularly.

Three top students give thumbs up

Tiffany Swain, who lives with her grandmother and aunt, rarely sees her mother, and shuns a father she has seen only once in 18 years. Stretching from 5:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., her schools days are filled with classes, a Gospel Choir, a Bible study club and the Academic Decathlon. After June graduation, she will use a Golden Apple scholarship to earn a college degree in education and then return to DuSable to teach.

Universities, other groups get grants to help low-scoring schools

Under the revised School Reform Act, the board has the power to intervene at chronically low-achieving schools. Last fall, 149 such schools were selected because they failed to meet state achievement expectations for three consecutive years. The number recently was lowered to 132, based on more recent test scores.

Board Oks overnight retreats, limits parent stipends

Responding to opposition from school reform advocates and local school councils, the School Reform Board of Trustees has backed off its proposal to ban the use of State Chapter 1 funds for overnight and out-of-town school retreats.

It also dropped a proposal to limit the number of hours a parent could be paid for working at a school—it had proposed a maximum of three per day. However, it did enact a limit on stipends that may be paid to parents, students and community members and who work in schools. While the original proposal called for different rate limits for different groups—$4.25 per hour for CPS students, $5.27 for college students and $7.74 for parents and community members—the board finally opted for one limit, $7.74.

Inspector General cites $19 million ‘loss’

Most of the waste was in two areas, the report states: $6 million in unwarranted overtime for school custodial staff, and about $10 million for a featherbedded playground staff. In random, unannounced visits to playgrounds and stadiums, inspectors found numerous instances of absent staff, closed facilities and non-existent programs, according to the report.

New crisis policy debuts

Reform activists denounced the policy when it was first adopted last fall, saying the board had grabbed too much power and had failed to get input from the school community first. In response, Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas called for public hearings and put a Dec. 31, 1995 sunset date on the old version of the policy. (See Catalyst, November 1995.)

Disputes could bring down principal, council members

In the end, though, it was Revere’s lack of academic progress that was likely to lead to some type of disciplinary action against long-time Principal Dean Gustafson. In a Jan. 15 interview, Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas said that Gustafson and at least one Revere LSC member could be removed, and that the school would likely be one of up to 40 placed on remediation. Revere is one of 132 on the state’s academic watch list, meaning that more than half the students have scored below state expectations on IGAP achievement tests for the past three years.

First semester status report

BALANCED BUDGET With a new state law allowing it to tap pension, reserve, state Chapter 1 and other previously earmarked funds, the new leadership eliminated a projected $290 million deficit and presented a four-year balanced budget that also allows for massive borrowing to build and repair schools. Spending was cut, too—for example, transportation, employee benefits, and food items were renegotiated at lower costs.

The new Pershing Road makes no little plans

Q Now you’re dealing with some of the lowest- performing schools, but do you get to the point where you nudge everybody up, as in, for example, Dallas or Kentucky?

Vallas: If you shift resources into the six or seven elements that seem to exist in all good schools, all should show improvement. If you let people know that academic achievement is the No. 1 priority. But clearly there has to be a concentration of effort in those schools that are facing the most serious problems.

Blind spot in glowing record?

In the beginning, there was the Law. Without the state legislation adopted last May, few of the initiatives you’ll read about in this issue would have seen the light of day. The revised Reform Act took the shackles off the school system’s finances, allowing the School Reform Board of Trustees to tap pension, reserve, state Chapter 1 and other previously earmarked funds. It also stripped unions of much of their power, allowing the board to eliminate job titles and adopt a employee code of conduct without hassle. For all that, the city schools have Mayor Daley, the Legislature’s Republicans and a handful of stick-to-it business leaders to thank. Should the vast new powers be abused, then the city will have mainly the mayor to blame, since he (or perhaps in the future a she) names the people who run the system.

Teaching, learning can’t be scripted

What concerns me most about the reintroduction of DI is the manner in which it is being handled, which has nothing to do with Joe Layng and everything to do with the current School Board’s handling of instructional issues. Gery Chico’s premature comment regarding “back to basics” sent a chilling message to teachers: We don’t think you’re doing your jobs correctly. Teachers of every stripe—basal textbook-based, whole language, eclectic, etc.—took great umbrage at his comment, for they’d never left the so-called basics. It was clear to all of us in the field that Mr. Chico either hadn’t spent any significant time in classrooms before making his remark, or, if he had, he didn’t pay close attention to what he saw. The next time he plans a visit to a whole language classroom, I suggest he first spend time alone with the teacher to learn in detail how a whole language curriculum works.

Life is a test, better get used to it

tests tell us:

(1) How the school is doing. (2) How each teacher is doing. (3) The subjects on which the students are doing well. (4) The subjects on which the students are doing poorly. (5) Classes where the best students are favored. (6) Classes where the slow learners get the most attention. (7) The value of the tests. (A portion of the students progress one year for each year of instruction.)

Comings and … goings

AT PERSHING ROAD George Ruckrich, a 37-year Chicago Police Department veteran who retired last year as deputy superintendent for the department’s bureau of investigative services, has been named director of safety and security. … Powhattan Collins, recently promoted from principal of Whitney Young High School to Region 6 officer, is now the officer for High School Services and Support. Salary: $90,000. Jacqueline Simmons, former principal of Robeson High School, is now his top assistant. Joining them are three high school principals on loan: Charles Vietzen of Hubbard is director of vocational education. Linda Lane of Fenger is in charge of articulation. Tam Hill of Calumet is in charge of restructuring. Ronald Beavers, formerly education administrator in Region 3, is now the administrator for alternative schools. … J. W. Smith, head of support programs/sports is in the high school office as well.