Launched three years ago, Washington’s Parent Report Card program has helped eliminate tardiness, boost attendance by several percentage points and increase parent participation in school activities by 75 percent, according to Principal Sandra F. Lewis. On any given day, some 25 parents volunteer time for work at the school.
HE KEEPS GOING AND GOING The evening of Feb. 8, schools chief Paul Vallas spent more than 2½ hours answering questions, first on live TV for WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight,” then informally after the show had gone off the air and finally for a taping for the “Jim Lehrer News Hour.” Two days later, Vallas doubled his talking time, answering questions first at a forum organized by the CityWide Coalition for School Reform, then informally after the event had ended and finally for a taping by the CENter project. All of which prompted one school reform wag to call him the Energizer rabbit.
Last fall, schools CEO Paul Vallas and the School Board invoked a hastily crafted “educational crisis” policy to dismiss the principal, an assistant principal and the entire local school council at Prosser, which had a long history of internal conflict. The board subsequently amended the policy, but some reform groups still contend it lacks proper due process.
At the LSC “summit” that afternoon, Sheila Castillo, coordinator of the Chicago Association of Local School Councils, told some 250 school reformers that they must proceed with caution. CALSC organized the event, held at Roosevelt University, in cooperation with the CityWide Coalition, Parents United For Responsible Education, the Lawyers’ School Reform Advisory Project and Schools First.
Currently, the board pays the full cost of state prekindergarten programs, using funds earmarked for that purpose by the state Board of Education. The state board doesn’t require prekindergartens to have aides, but does set standards—an adult-to-child ratio of no more than 1-to-10 and a maximum of 20 children per class— that virtually force schools to hire them. State guidelines also require aides to have at least 30 semester hours of academic credit in early childhood education.
Budget Director David Agazzi said the 17 percent cut reflects the most recent action in Washington, D.C., where legislators continued to wrangle over the fiscal 1996 federal budget. Both houses of Congress had approved a 17 percent reduction for the program as a whole, but President Clinton had not yet signed off on the legislation, Agazzi reported.
Teachers who submit to and fare well in an in-depth evaluation by administrators, peers, students and parents receive $1,000. Learning a new skill—one identified by the district as particularly important, such as how to use a computer—brings $300. Doing extra work, from sponsoring a club to serving on a school committee, brings $20 to $1,400. And groups of teachers that meet a common academic goal can earn extra money for each member of the group—$300 is the average.
Weber, president of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and a key player in last year’s debate, is pushing legislation that would force Chicago teachers to accept a merit-pay program in their next contract. Pay raises currently based on seniority and college credits would give way to raises based on student test scores, acquisition of specific skills, or extra work, such as involvement in curriculum development, school management and community outreach programs.
Amid the massive throng in Washington D.C., Brydie had spotted a fellow White Academy staffer, R.C. Hardy, a husky, no-nonsense, Vietnam veteran who is the school’s custodian. Both had accepted Minister Louis Farrakhan’s challenge to marchers to seek right relationships with the Creator and reconciliation with each other, and to take personal and collective responsibility for their lives and the welfare and future of their families and communities.
AT&T and LaSalle National Bank recently awarded the School Reform Board generous grants ($100,000 and $10,000 respectively) to support community-based organizations in recruiting LSC candidates. Unfortunately, that amount is a far cry from private funding provided for similar work in each of the previous three LSC elections. In 1989, over $750,000 was awarded by Chicago foundations and corporations (via Leadership for Quality Education) to over 30 community-based organizations to recruit and train candidates and get out the vote. In 1991 and 1993, under the leadership of Ken Rolling (then of the Woods Fund of Chicago) and Anne Hallett (then of the Wieboldt Foundation), the Special Fund for LSC Elections distributed $318,000 and $215,000 respectively. Obviously, in each subsequent election, Chicago’s community groups had to do more and more with less and less.
If our children are to be ready for the information superhighway, the state must face up to its responsibility. Our schools need funding now, not after the November election. That is why we are planning to take parents and other concerned citizens to Springfield on March 27. Our message will be loud and clear: Just Do It Now—Fund Public Schools. Please join us and parents across Illinois. Transportation and lunch will be provided.
Q What do you suggest for helping local school councils pick principals?
A Well, I’m very pleased that we finally do have a training module, one that I think, if it is approached properly, will at least give council members some kind of insights and direction. [Training is being organized by the University of Illinois at Chicago in cooperation with school reform groups and School Board.] We really need to work with principals, too. We are not saying that principals are above it. We’ll continue to work with principals and aspiring principals to see that they are able to create a vision. That they know how to plan a program. That they can utilize a budget. And make wise decisions and suggestions.
When I was named principal in 1978, Healy was 65 percent white and 35 percent Hispanic. At that time, families placed a low priority on education, primarily because the school is located in Chicago’s 11th Ward, longtime home to several of Chicago’s previous mayors including Edward J. Kelly, Richard J. Daley and Michael Bilandic. Political jobs were readily available to 11th Ward residents, and children knew that garbage collectors earned as much money as teachers. When Jane Byrne became mayor, the scene changed. Political jobs were no longer taken for granted.
At this point, the biggest concern is the program’s survival. At $12 million a year, alternative schools for troublemakers and dropouts are a costly undertaking. Todd Rosenkranz, budget and policy analyst for the Chicago Panel on School Policy, figures that the board can find the money for the next several years. “It’s just a question of what they want to forego somewhere else,” he says. Rosenkranz goes on to note that the board has not spelled out financial plans for any of the other education initiatives it recently announced. New programs that may look great in and of themselves may not look so great if cutbacks are required somewhere else.
In 1994, Exito lost its alternative-schools contract with the Milwaukee Board of Education because of numerous contract violations, including the falsifying of attendance data and teacher certification documents.
Despite that, the state accepted Exito for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which allows students to attend private non-sectarian schools at the state’s expense. However, the school’s reincarnation was short lived. In early February, the school closed amid allegations of questionable finances and exaggerated enrollment numbers, leaving more than 100 students scrambling to find spaces elsewhere, including public schools.
How many high schools do you know where students call their teacher “godfather”? At Olive-Harvey Middle College, Robert H. White, professor of U.S. and Latin American history and team teacher of returning high school dropouts, has “adopted” the entire student body, about 100 16 to 21-year-olds finishing work for their diplomas. When he walks through the halls, his students inquire respectfully, “Good afternoon, godfather. how are you?”
The board’s action sparked heated debate over how the alternative schools should be monitored and evaluated. Some community activists charged that the schools were under attack because they served African-American students. In the end, the School Board backed off, renewing contracts with two of the three schools.
The following organizations received contracts to expand or open schools for dropouts:
Ada S. McKinley Community Services, Aspira Inc., Association House, Austin Career Education Center, Blue Gargoyle Inc., Catholic Charities/Garfield Alternative High School, Community Youth Development Institute, Community Services West, Pedro Albizu Campos High School, Greater West Town Community Development Project/West Town Academy, Howard Area Community Center, Hull House Association/Parkway Community House, Instituto del Progresso Latino.
Under the new Safe Schools Act, all school districts in the state—except Chicago—will be eligible next year for new state money for alternative schools.
The act, passed last May, requires all districts to open alternative schools next school year. The Illinois State Board of Education plans to ask for $6 million to pay for them.
But the act also states that Chicago won’t get any funding until the 1997-98 school year, “because of the size of the Chicago public school system, as well as logistical concerns.”
Clemente High School
Raymond Lopez, junior: It’s a good idea. I was kicked out for gangbanging, and I want to go to school, and they won’t send me to their [Clemente’s own] alternative school.
Calvin Lewis, freshman: It’s not a good idea. There’s some reason they’re troublemakers, and alternative schools won’t help. But it will help the regular kids.
The School Reform Board is requiring that alternative schools achieve a success rate of at least 70 percent for each of the following:
Seniors who earn a diploma or GED.
Non-seniors who continue in the program, transfer to another program or transfer back to a regular public school.
Students who make at least one month’s gain on standardized achievement tests for each month they are enrolled in the program.
Students who earn at least two high school credits before the end of the school year.
Eligible students who are enrolled in a vocational program.
Ada McKinley, a private, non-profit social service agency, won a $650,000 contract from the School Reform Board to operate programs for dropouts and disruptive youth at six sites on the South Side. In all, the board distributed $6 million to 39 organizations to open or expand alternative programs for about 1,560 students; McKinley’s contract is the largest.