Swift Elementary School in Edgewater has one of the most unstable enrollments in the city, with a constant flow of students in and out.
Between the start of this school year and Jan. 31, 170 students newly enrolled at Swift, not counting 96 kindergartners. In addition, parents of another 177 students came to Swift to enroll their children, but the children transferred again before being assigned to a classroom.
During the same period, 198 students left Swift, dispersing to 39 Chicago public schools as well as to schools in the suburbs and other states and countries. Of those who left, 24 could not be traced.
Of the moves to or from identifiable Chicago public schools, about half involved schools within roughly 2 miles of Swift; 31 percent involved schools more than 10 miles away. Swift’s enrollment hovers around 800.
To see a map depicting citywide mobility, refer to the printed issue.
Critics, however, say that teachers will act in the heat of the moment and may suspend minority and special education students without sufficient cause. Louis Grumet, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, likens the plan to giving crime witnesses the right to prosecute suspects and hand down sentences. “We have to make certain that the person making the accusations is not also the judge,” Grumet said.
JAN 19 Nice idea, lousy name Gage Park teacher Arlene Crandall likes the idea of a state-funded program the School Reform Board is offering Gage Park, but she hates the name. The idea: free after-school classes for kids who’ve flunked a course, so they can catch up and graduate on time. The name: The Hispanic Dropout Program. “That’s politically insensitive,” Crandall scoffs.
IN THE FIELD A business manager has been appointed to each region to assist with and monitor school and regional budgets. Region 1, Jodilyn Marron of the CPS budget office; Region 2, Jorge Perez, an interal audit supervisor; Region 3, Lydia Nantwi, principal of Woodland Elementary in south suburban Hazel Crest; Region 4, Jay Swanson assistant principal of Juarez High; Region 5, Keith Barrett, formerly a CPS financial analyst; Region 6, Maxey Bacchus, of the CPS bureau of contracts.
An interim advisory board had recommended three options, each of which provided for an elected majority. However, the School Board created a 15-member body with only six elected members, one from each region.
“That was not one of the recommendations the interim council gave,” notes Lafayette Ford, a member of the interim group and co-chair of the CityWide Coalition for School Reform. “In fact, the board reversed the interim council’s recommendation.”
Leonard Dominguez, the board’s policy chief, says the School Board chose to include more appointees than elected members in order to ensure a majority of parents and a balance of regions, interests, races and ethnicities.
Students who have been suspended repeatedly for Group 3 and Group 4 discipline code violations—for example, using obscene language, fighting or serious disobedience—are now eligible for placement in alternative schools. Students must chalk up at least 25 days of suspension for Group 3 violations or 20 days of suspension for Group 4.
The goal is to increase instruction time in core subjects—reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies—to 300 minutes per day. Currently, elementary students receive an average of 244 minutes of instruction in core subjects, according to data Chicago supplied the state for school report cards.
DePaul University Professor Leonard Jason seeks to remedy that situation through the book Helping Transfer Students: Strategies for Educational and Social Readjustment. Jason is the lead author.
“In the worst of situations, all schools need is creativity to see and find the resources,” Jason says. “Often they are right in the community, and they don’t cost much.”
He offers the following suggestions:
Hold a mini-orientation to review school rules, identify key school personnel and share other important information. Encourage the students to ask questions about the school and its activities.
Create and distribute a “welcome booklet” that includes a welcome to the school; a list of important school personnel; pages for class schedules and the like; lists of special activities, clubs and holiday activities; information about the special concerns of new students; and information from the student’s teacher, such as rules for the classroom.
The morning of Oct. 4, the 20th day of school, Adam arrives with his parents at Swift Elementary in Edgewater, some 15 miles away from where he began the school year. He is assigned to Kara Staggs’ 1st-grade classroom, and Staggs assigns him a buddy—a Swift “veteran”—who will show him the ropes, like how to line up to go to the bathroom, how to get lunch and how not to “flip your card.” Under the disciplinary system set up by Staggs and her team teacher, Donna Wojcik, a flipped card means trouble.
In studying student transfers from spring 1993 to spring 1994, the Chicago Panel on School Policy and the Consortium on Chicago School Research identified nine patterns. Schools in category 1 retained a stable core of students while attracting new students. At the opposite end of the scale, schools in category 9 saw about a third of their students leave during the one-year period but failed to attract enough students to replace them; as a result, they suffered declining enrollment. Small schools, especially those with magnet programs, tended to be the most stable. Schools printed below in red had decreasing stability rates between 1991 and 1994; that is, their student population experienced increasing turnover. Schools printed in bold type had increasing stability.
“I had one parent tell me he was transferring his child because he didn’t like black people—he was African,” recalls Kara Staggs, a lst-grade teacher at Swift Elementary. “I’ve also had parents pull their children out because I tell them their child needs special education. So they transfer them to another school. And when the next teacher also recommends it, that child will move again.
The Sanders children—Marcus, Seanderrick, and twins Terrance and Tenil, now aged 19, 13 and 12—all started school at Grant Elementary, which sits in the middle of the Rockwell Gardens housing project on the city’s West Side. While Sanders, now 44, had lived most of her life in Rockwell, she recognized that it was not a good place to raise children.
“It was really rough over there,” she recalls. “People didn’t too much bother me because I was in a gang then, but innocent people were getting killed all the time. About six or seven people I knew died while I was living there. Once, a dead body was found in the laundry room. Gangs had robbed, killed and stripped a man and left him in there. I was really upset because my kids, who were little at the time, used to peek in there on their way up to the apartment.”
Some of the students who switch schools transfer four, five or six times by 6th grade, according to a separate student survey conducted by the Consortium on Chicago School Research. (See chart.) That same survey indicates that a large number of transfers occur during the school year—48 percent of a sample of 6th-graders said that the last time they switched schools, it was during the school year.
As part of the research for this issue on student mobility, Catalyst called the three elementary schools with the largest increases in stability in recent years and the three with the largest decreases—just to get a sense of what was going on. To our surprise, the principal at one of the schools with high and increasing student turnover said he didn’t even know that his school had an extraordinary mobility rate. Not to our surprise, his attitude was, I’ve got more important things to worry about. “I’m focusing on trying to raise scores,” he said. As Catalyst Associate Editor Debra Williams writes in the lead article, student mobility generally has been accepted as a problem with no solution: Families move. What can schools do?