Probation program sluggish, advisory proposal rejected

JUN 7 Learning to take tests: in a word, boring.

Even though the school year is winding down, classwork looms large at a cafeteria table full of freshmen. This year the Summer Bridge Program’s largest component will be 13,973 freshmen who scored below 8th-grade levels in math and/or reading on the nationally standardized Tests of Achievement and Proficiency, TAP for short.

LSC members cite successes, frustrations of service

What is your LSC’s proudest achievement?

We worked with the administration in seeking an annex for the school to relieve overcrowding. We received one, and the annex is completed.

Is there something you attempted to accomplish but failed?

We wanted to get our windows fixed, the roof repaired, landscaping; and the playground needs repairing. That hasn’t been done, because there’s some communications problems with the board. At times it’s frustrating trying to reach some of our goals in reaching higher-ups, but we keep trying. … We are lucky at Sutherland, we always put our kids’ needs first. We have a great group of people who continue to work together.

Board taps reserves for new budget

In the fiscal year that began July 1, the board plans to spend nearly $3 billion on general operations. That total is some $163 million more than it anticipates taking in from federal, state and local sources, even with increases in property taxes ($34 million), general state aid ($40 million), state Chapter 1 ($7.5 million) and federal poverty money ($8 million). To bridge the gap, the board will tap a fund balance that, as of June 30, it estimated at some $404 million.

Reconstitution schools

All principals retained or appointed to schools on probation have been given interim principal status, meaning they serve at the discretion of the chief executive officer. Here’s a rundown.

DuSable. Principal Charles Mingo was retained. Katherine Smith, a teacher in Citywide Schools and Regions, has been named associate principal at DuSable.

Englewood. Sam Williams, assistant principal at Calumet High, succeeds Tommye Brown, who is now director of alternative school operations at central office.

Accountability council revs up, reconstitution under way

The Reform Board reconstituted seven of the high schools, sparing Marshall High because it has a relatively new principal; none of the schools had more than 7 percent of its students reading at or above grade level, according to test scores. The board did not reconstitute the elementary schools, McCorkle and Terrell, choosing instead to remove only the principals. Under reconstitution, all staff members must reapply for their jobs.

Principals dismissed

The School Reform Board removed principals from 11 schools that are on probation but were not chosen for reconstitution; then it named interim principals, who will serve at the discretion of the chief executive officer. Here’s a rundown.

Dodge Elementary. Allen Stringfellow is out, and Linda Langhart, a manager in the Department of Early Childhood Education, is in.

Farren Elementary. William Auksi is out, and Gwendolyn Long, a manager of teacher development, is in.

Board yanks 11 principals, Tunney cries foul

Dalin is one of 11 principals removed over the summer from schools that were on probation but not reconstitituted. (For details on reconstitution, see story on page 24.) Only three principals attended the dismissal hearings to challenge their removal— Allen Stringfellow from Dodge, Lawrence Head from Pope and Betzaida Figueroa from Kelvyn Park.

No race-based business here

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 to the readers of your publication what is occurring in our ward.

Gale mess becomes a cause célèbre

THE PROCESS On April 21, the Gale council votes 7 to 2 to offer a principal’s contract to Beverly Martin, a central office administrator. The Law Department later declares the vote null and void due to alleged irregularities regarding the meeting’s posted agenda. The council majority disputes the ruling but agrees to vote again, which it does in late June. This time, the vote for Martin is 6 to 3.

Law, policy changes dilute LSC power

In 1996, the Legislature quietly removed the prohibition at the request of Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas. The School Reform Board (the new name for the Board of Education) then imposed a number of requirements on principal candidates, including Chicago residency, administrative experience, an unpaid internship and increased college course work. The 1996 law also gave the school system’s CEO veto power over an LSC’s decision to renew its principal’s contract; the board serves as a court of appeal.

Vallas team a winner in Springfield

Vallas brings both endurance and experience to the task; he spent 10 years in Springfield as a legislative staffer. “He’s a big asset in situations like that,” says Steve Brown, spokesperson for House Speaker Michael Madigan. “There are a lot of members who remember Paul from his days down there, so I think he comes with an extra measure of credibility, if you will. … Here was somebody who dealt with the nuts and bolts operations of the Legislature, and he’s back.”

Study gives positive ratings to LSCs

These findings are a preview of a new study of LSCs to be released next month by the Consortium on Chicago School Research. In the final report, the Consortium will address whether LSCs are using their skills and experience effectively.

The study is expected to counter widely held beliefs that councils are not fit to govern and that elected members do not have the skills to make important decisions about schools. The study is based on surveys of 1,900 council members at 325 schools. Councils are composed of six parents, two community representatives, two teachers, the principal and, in high schools, one student.

Councils gearing up for Springfield

Stuffed with papers, the folder constitutes a primer for the budding lobbyist. It includes a telephone directory of state senators and representatives, a seating chart for both houses of the General Assembly, sample bills, tips for mounting letter-writing campaigns and exercising influence, and a flow chart on how a bill becomes law in Illinois.

LSCs need to get political

The Consortium on Chicago School Research again has proved itself to be an essential partner in the complex business of turning around the city’s 550 schools. Over the summer, it produced a study by University of Chicago researcher Melissa Roderick on truancy and class-cutting during the 1995-96 school year. The study was a stunner that put a huge exclamation point on an earlier finding that high schools had gotten worse despite reform. For example: In their first semester, half the freshmen missed two or more weeks of instruction in at least one major subject, with class-cutting almost as much to blame as absenteeism. That’s important information for schools to have shoved in their faces and for the public to know. The researchers did more than crunch numbers, though; they also talked to enough kids to discern that reducing truancy requires more than simply getting tough. Kids who start to slip need help getting back on track in the classes they missed. (For individual school results, see the Consortium’s Web site: www.consortium-chicago.org.)