The Erikson Institute and Columbia College have received a $1 million grant from Irving B. and Joan W. Harris to create an early childhood teacher education program that includes two years of student teaching and mentor support during the first year of teaching.
Meanwhile, Gage Park is planning to boost both education and discipline with added computer power next year; the school plans to spend over $160,000 on computer hardware and software. Most classrooms will get “mini-labs” with six computers each; these machines, Donaldson hopes, will be networked schoolwide and may let students access the Internet.
Many African-American and Latino parents joined forces last summer to protest the school’s move to a split-shift schedule—since abandoned. However, divisions between leaders in these two communities culminated in a bitter campaign for Gale’s local school council, with Latinos scoring an upset victory. (Gale’s enrollment is roughly one-third Latino and two-thirds African American.)
His “interviewing” typically consisted of asking “Have you stopped beating your wife?”-type questions, which he then followed up as if he had either not heard or else had not understood my response to his earlier questions. After repeated attempts at asking him to listen … I basically told him that our conversation had become so one-sided that it simply needed to end.
Parents at Niños have been supportive of the idea, Stratton says. They do not have to readjust to a new teacher every year; instead, they have time to become familiar with a teacher’s style and expectations. As in a regular classroom, parents of children in the multi-year program have the option of transferring their children to another class if there is a conflict with the teacher or the program. None has to date.
MOVING IN/ON Ken McNeil has resigned as executive director of the CityWide Coalition for School Reform to start a private legal practice with a specialty in family law. Lafayette Ford, co-chair of the organization, has been named executive director. … Susan Klonsky, formerly with the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, has been retained by Lynn St. James, chief educational officer, for writing and editing on an as-needed basis. … John Frantz, principal of Sutherland School, has been named director of teacher accountability. … Ruby Ford, principal of Libby Elementary, has been named Region 6 administrator.
To help develop a curriculum and assist in organizing the new effort, College of Education Dean Larry Braskamp pulled together a coalition of individuals from local universities, the school administration, the Chicago Teachers Union and community-based and reform organizations.
The coalition’s first task was to train the 715 LSC members who had been appointed to fill vacancies that had arisen since the training requirement was enacted. As it turned out, only about 400 participated.
The measure, which Gov. Jim Edgar is expected to sign, would give the School Reform Board power “to impose academic, educational, examination and experience requirements and criteria” for the selection, continued employment and contract renewal of a principal. Current law requires only that principals be certified by the state and allows local school councils to establish additional qualifications.
Last school year, 189 elementary schools, or about 40 percent, budgeted state Chapter 1 or federal Title I money for summer enrichment and remedial programs; this year, the number was 233, or 49 percent, according to the Chicago Panel on School Policy. The administration has forecast that some 300 schools will, in fact, offer remedial programs this summer for 3rd- and 6th-graders, and it is chipping in $1.2 million for supplies.
Last year, Gage Park High, along with Kennedy High, posted the highest suspension rate in the city: 106 suspensions for every 100 students. Gage Park disciplinarian James Gorecki says the school’s “get-tough” approach is necessary because many students are behind academically. “To catch up, they need to be in class as much as possible,” he says. “Unfortunately, [strict] discipline is the way you have to go to do that.” In addition, the school’s active counseling department runs support groups for students with problems, and incentives are offered for good behavior. Detentions and suspensions are heavy at the beginning of the year, Gorecki says, but drop substantially by spring as students strive to stay out of trouble. On April 30, Contributing Editor Dan Weissmann spent two hours with Gorecki as he meted out punishment. In the cases recounted below, students’ names have been changed.
In a survey of 10th-graders, 82 percent of both whites and Latinos reported that they had never been suspended, compared to only 73 percent of African-American students. And 83 percent of whites said they had never been placed on in-school suspension, compared to only 72 percent of black students and 75 percent of Latinos. About 6,000 students responded to the survey.
Nine of 62 high schools (not including special education schools) reported no suspension data; another 12 reported data that appeared incomplete; i.e., for only one or two of the five categories of infractions in the Uniform Discipline Code. Catalyst contacted these schools to obtain their tallies; four responded. Three of the four gave Catalyst higher tallies than those on record at the board.
Poor lesson planning and ineffective teaching methods—such as too much lecturing—often are at fault. “Any teacher who is unprepared can expect discipline problems,” says DuSable High Principal Charles Mingo. “Another thing you have to think about is presentation. When teenagers come into the room, you know they’re not thinking about you. You need to do two things: get their attention and engage them [in the lesson].”
Disparity in stats
Citywide, high schools had an average of 28 suspensions for every 100 students, a low figure compared to other large urban districts.
However, the rate for individual schools ranged from a high of 106 per 100 students at Kennedy High in Chicago Lawn and Gage Park High in Gage Park, to a low of less than one suspension per 100 students at Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences and Lindblom Technical (each of which had a total of only three suspensions).
According to central office, lax reporting of suspensions is a longstanding problem that has gotten worse since school reform gave schools more autonomy. However, central office is not powerless here; it retains the authority to enforce state law. And it has a printing press and internal mail system, which means it can publish and distribute to principals and local school councils a report showing the data, or lack of data, from every school in the system. That way, it can tap into local leadership to get action rather than having to rely on bureaucratic mandates.