A principal’s risk: ‘This year, everyone’s doing it my way’

All children now wear uniforms, a practice favored by the School Reform Board. The average class size is smaller, the result of a redistribution of federal funds at both the city and school levels. And reading instruction has been overhauled to reflect the board’s back-to-basics approach and emphasis on standardized tests.

Comings and Goings

NEW LOBBYISTS The Reform Board is spending $105,000 to hire three consultants to “provide ongoing intergovernmental services … with members of the executive and legislative bodies in Washington, D.C. and Springfield” through June 1997. In Springfield: Rick Larison, currently a liaison between the board and state government and a former staff member for House Speaker Lee Daniels (R-Elmhurst); and former Rep. Paul L. Williams. In Washington, D.C.: Charles “Chuck” Pizer, a liaison between the office of Mayor Richard M. Daley and the federal government and a member of former U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski’s staff. Richard Guidice, also a former state legislator, and Greg Richmond, a former Illinois Senate staffer, continue to work full-time for the board on government relations.

NEW NAME Scanlan Elementary School has

Reform Board sets grade-change,enrollment policies

If a principal changes a student’s grade, he or she must give the teacher a written explanation of the reasons. Within five days, the teacher may appeal the change to the region education officer. The officer must review the case and make a final ruling within 10 days.

Evening school enrollment booming

The evening school was created a year ago September, when then-Principal Al Clark invited a number of students who had been kicked out as troublemakers to return to Austin. (See Catalyst, November 1995.) Howard Saffold, a retired police officer who heads an organization called Positive Anti-Crime Thrust, was the founding director; Lane, a member of Austin’s original remediation team, took over in December.

Fired teachers win their way back

This fall, five of the 17 teachers returned following a successful challenge to the firings and a settlement between the School Reform Board and the Chicago Teachers Union. Subsequently, one of the five was lured away by another school.

Despite fresh start, a long way to go

The turnaround came in the wake of three generous gifts from Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas: (1) A new interim principal who quickly gained the confidence of the faculty—some have called the arrival of Arthur Slater “a miracle”; (2) $98,000 to bring in the School Achievement Structure program developed by Barbara Sizemore, dean of the School of Education at DePaul University; and (3) a seat on the fast track for capital improvements.

Administration keeps Clemente on a leash

An audit of the school’s internal accounts found over $15,000 in “prohibited expenditures,” including more than $14,000 paid to a retired staffer for keeping the pop machines stocked. An audit of state and federal programs at the school found a wide range of minor transgressions. A typical example involved two teacher assistants who were supposed to be working in the math lab but who worked in the attendance office instead.

‘Scandal’ school sees reform ideas copied

When the School Reform Board ordered every local school council to consider adopting uniforms, Clemente’s LSC quickly said “yes.” Its members genuinely like the idea, which has broad support in the community, but they also are anxious to please an administration that put their school on both academic remediation and financial supervision and was expected to put it on academic probation as well.

How school remediation, probation work

What are the criteria for putting schools on remediation?

Under the law, schools that have failed to develop or implement a school improvement plan.

These were the criteria used to place Curtis, Brown, Lewis, West Pullman and Tilton elementary schools and Austin High on remediation during the administration of Supt. Argie Johnson.

The administration of Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas has taken a different tack, focusing almost exclusively on test scores. First, schools must be on the state’s “academic watch list,” which means that for three years in a row, at least 50 percent of their students failed to meet state standards on the Illinois Goals Assessment Program (IGAP) tests. The tests cover math, reading, writing, science and social studies. Second, schools’ scores must be declining rather than improving├╣though some exceptions have been made on this criterion.

Jenner shifts extras to after-school hours

The faculty at Jenner Elementary took remediation as another blow. “We were devastated,” says Zelma Woodson, Jenner’s assistant principal. “We know we had been working hard, but education is not a priority in this community.” In retrospect, says Satinover, remediation was a blessing in disguise. “It helped the whole school focus at the same time on the same issues.”

Fear jump-starts school improvement

One principal initially complained bitterly to Catalyst about the remediation process, saying his school already had been working with an outside education organization to bring up the school’s test scores. The principal also complained that his school got less money for remediation because it had been paying for outside help on its own. “You knock yourself out to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and you get punished,” the principal said. (For an explanation of how schools go on and off remediation, see story.)

Fear ain’t all bad, but has limits

What’s missing is a clear set of standards that are enforced consistently. Why was one school with declining test scores put on remediation—and not another? Why was one principal fired—and not another? Why does one school—and not another—have to get all its spending OKed by superiors? And what does it mean to “function well” in the eyes of the Office of Accountability, which is a prerequisite for getting off probation?