The Reform Board’s new Design for High Schools bills itself as “a work in progress.” Indeed, carrying out its vision will require lots of hard work, continual assessment and possibly readjustment.
What has been good about probation? First, I don’t have to twist my staff’s arms, and I can demand more from them. We know we are all being held accountable, and my staff has gotten behind the process and is working hard. Also the change in the state law has given principals more leeway to do certain things. For instance, the process has been shortened to get rid of bad staff. Before, it took so much time. Now principals have the support of the law.
Over the last six years, Amundsen High School in Lincoln Square has produced a string of homegrown successes. The school crafted an environmental program that includes ecology, interdisciplinary work between science and social studies and an annual Earth Day celebration that typically draws more than 1,000 enthusiasts. Amundsen’s continuing sponsorship of an annual walk-a-thon to raise money for cocaine-addicted babies won national recognition in 1995 and raised over $100,000 this year. And an intensive schoolwide reading program paid off this spring with major increases in test scores, an accomplishment that brought the school recognition on the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Last school year, 53 percent of freshmen and juniors scored in the bottom quartile in reading on the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (TAP). What this means is that their scores were in the bottom 25 percent of those posted by students who made up the national sample against which TAP test-takers are measured. This school year, however, the percentage in the bottom quartile dropped to 46 percent, meaning 7 percent had, in effect, moved up to the second quartile.
Azcoitia says members offered a variety of reasons for not completing the training. “Some said their work schedules had changed, and some said they had been on board from the beginning and didn’t need training,” he reports. “Still, I think that only 103 out of 5,700 members is very good. People told us that no one would comply with this policy, but the majority did. It shows our council members are, indeed, committed.”
Teachers who enroll in the new program at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University will take classes “alongside people from IBM, Toyota and other major corporations,” says Michael Bakalis, director of the Total Quality Schools Program at Northwestern and a former Illinois State Superintendent of Education.
Breashears is among 157 principals who inherited assistant principals as a result of 1993 negotiations between the Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union. Historically, assistant principals had held their positions as long as they liked, regardless of changes in a school’s top leadership. In 1993, however, the teachers union agreed to term limits—henceforth, newly selected assistants (and head teachers) would serve for the same period of time as the principals who selected them. However, individuals who were assistant principals on Sept. 1 of that year were grandfathered into their jobs.
All three Joi Jones, Le’Paris Bell and Miguel Lopez failed to hit the minimum reading score required for promotion to high school—6.8, or the eighth month of 6th grade. And they failed again at the end of mandatory summer school. But by January, after another semester in 8th grade, all three hit the mark and quickly found themselves in one of five new transition centers aimed at catching them up to their peers. With extra work this semester and another round of summer school, they, along with some 630 other transition students, could earn up to 5.25 credits and enter high school in August as sophomores.
The importance of this endeavor to our city cannot be underestimated. The very economy of our city relies on the quality of our schools. Businesses must consider local schools when determining a strategic location for a home office. Further, local workforces and universities draw from the graduates produced by our high schools. When we don’t provide the highest quality education, the quality of local businesses and colleges suffers. If Chicago is to be a model metropolis for the world as Mayor Richard Daley envisions, we simply must transform this school system.
court this past November, on the heels of a case that brought a demolition order for its decrepit modular building. Suspecting lead hazards in the main building, Local School Council Chair Debi Otikor and Principal Millicent Russell had commissioned testing by the non-profit Lead Elimination Action Drive. The tests showed unacceptable levels of lead in several parts of the school.
Catalyst reviewed 115 of the 129 cases that were filed or closed during the past two years. These cases included 498 instances of city code violations. Defective roofs were cited 23 times; defective ceilings, floors and walls, 81 times. Together with a few lead and asbestos violations, these categories made up 21 percent of all citations.
Arguably, such goals look impressive compared to similar public works programs around town. For instance, the City of Chicago’s purchasing department has goals of 25 percent for minority firms and 5 percent for women-owned firms. So do the Chicago Park District and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority. Cook County aims a bit higher: 30 percent minority and 10 percent women.
Newly-installed Operations Chief Tim Martin says that he considers the current plans a work-in-progress. “What I’m trying to do is develop an intelligent document for public comment,” he says, adding that it would be “totally impossible” to do that in the next month or two. By next year, he hopes to have something the public can see.
NEED DATA Need data were drawn from a 1995 survey by the McClier Corporation, which catalogs more than 40,000 repairs needed in more than 500 school buildings. Although the report is over two years old and leaves out several dozen buildings—some new, some recently repaired—it is the board’s only comprehensive guide to the condition of its physical plant.
Despite the board’s efforts to implement the program even-handedly based on need, Catalyst reporter Dan Weissmann authored a piece claiming that the board’s expenditure of capital dollars has been driven by politics, with supposedly “powerful aldermen” and “middle-class constituents” benefiting at the expense of allegedly needier, less affluent wards. It seems as though his article was written to support a predetermined point of view. As explained below, Mr. Weissmann’s article is factually inaccurate and fundamentally flawed in numerous critical respects.
I resent the implication by the reporter that the white schools in the ward are the ones receiving the capital improvement money. If your reporter had done any simple research he would have found out that this was not true. Better yet he could have simply asked me, since he interviewed me, but he chose not to. Instead, he chose to misrepresent what is occurring in our ward to the readers of your publication.
Catalyst ranked Chicago’s 50 wards by dollars spent per square foot of school space in each ward. The wards of City Council powerhouses Richard Mell (33rd) and Edward Burke (14th) placed in the top five. That group also included the 43rd Ward, which encompasses the affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood, and the largely middle-class 18th Ward on the Far Southwest Side.
After months of complaints from principals, local school council members and even members of the Reform Board’s own Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee, school officials are promising a new day in the conduct of their massive school construction and repair program. They’ve come up with specific plans to keep schools informed and give them a say in the work. Bravo. New operations chief Tim Martin also says public comment will be sought on overall planning, in effect promising to take public hearings and the Blue Ribbon Committee seriously.