We are writing in response to the misleading and factually inaccurate article regarding the Board of Education’s Capital Program published in the June 1997 issue of CATALYST. Initially, we decided to disregard the piece, but a couple of people have cited it, and now we feel compelled to set the record straight.
With increasing flexibility from central office and continuing teacher resistance to more work without extra pay, Amundsen opted to start on a much smaller scale. This year, advisory will be held only on previously planned long-division days, which are held four days each quarter. On three of the four days, the 40-minute division will be devoted to advisory activities; on the remaining day, an entire grade will meet with the principal in the auditorium. The first sessions started Friday.
Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars in city subsidies have poured into the neighborhood, and Chicago’s mayor has become its most famous resident. Now, his school board, high-profile developers and an independent activist are trying to bring the middle-income families back. They say they’re shooting for an arrangement that serves all sides.
Below are sketches of five districts. We included New York and Los Angeles because they come closest to Chicago in size. We selected the others by asking five well-informed observers to name districts with the most promising efforts. Memphis came out on top; finalists Boston and Charlotte-Mecklenburg were selected for geographic diversity.
At the outset of school reform, Earhart Elementary School was an above-average school for Chicago; 33 percent of its students scored at or above national norms in reading, compared with 24 percent citywide. Today, the small Southeast Side school is outstanding, with 75 percent of its students hitting that mark.
Even if the board’s new focus on the ITBS and TAP did propel schools forward, maintaining that focus threatens to narrow children’s education in the long run. If done well, the new standards-based “finals” the board is developing for high school courses can begin to lead Chicago out of this trick bag.
AWARD NOMINATIONS Nov. 17 is the deadline for nominations for the School Leadership Awards for Outstanding Principals, sponsored by the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA), and LaSalle National Bank. Winners receive $5,000. For information, call CPAA at (312) 263-7767. … Dec. 1 is the deadline for nominations for the 13th annual Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching, which this year will honor high school teachers. For information, call the Golden Apple Foundation at (312) 407-0006.
To get one of the best—New Trier Township High School—the Iverson family (Barbara, husband Norman, daughter Liz and son Herb) moved from a house on the Far Northwest Side of Chicago into what she calls “the smallest house in Wilmette.” It’s not much smaller than the old one, but it’s not an improvement, either, she says.
Fahima sent her two eldest children, Sateria and Tuscanne, to Langston Hughes, the elementary school in Roseland she had attended in the 1970s. But the school had changed, and discipline had become a problem. “Some-where along the line, something went wrong with our school system,” she says. “I found it really hard to believe once the school bell would ring, [the students] would come out fighting.”
Harrigan, now on the faculty of the DePaul University School of Education, started with the school’s pervasive graffiti. Immediately after being named district superintendent, she ordered custodians to remove all the graffiti over spring break. With an assist from the central office, she arranged for an interior makeover to be done over the summer. “When the students came back in September, it looked like a brand-new school,” she says.
In a letter to parents dated Oct. 10, which all schools were asked to send home with children, Vallas contends the proposal’s critics “apparently … do not want neighborhood children attending school with their children. … They prefer to maintain a policy of exclusion so that certain schools are isolated from their communities, reserved for a special group of children.”
The board’s strategy is to make the educational program at South Loop so good that it will override the fears middle-income parents have about sending their children to school with public- housing kids. The board has tapped the Small Schools Workshop at the University of Illinois at Chicago to help the school upgrade its program, and put up $82,000 toward a two-year effort. In addition, the local school council has kicked in $41,000 of the school’s discretionary funds, and the Workshop has committed $41,000. The money covers the cost of a full-time facilitator, plus planning and research time for teachers.
Students bailed out at every grade level, but 8th grade topped the list, with about 2,700 students leaving for public suburban or non-public schools. Kindergarten was next with 1,600 students. Other grades averaged about 1,200.
While the leavers are more middle class than is total CPS enrollment, most are low income. While they are a much whiter than is total CPS enrollment, most are students of color. While they are more likely to do well on standardized tests, most do not score at or above national norms.
But most of them stayed, riveted, to hear Paul Vallas, chief executive officer of Chicago’s public schools, give the keynote address at the realty group’s annual dinner in late September. Draper-Hill was not surprised. “Schools are definitely important to selling real estate in the City of Chicago,” she explains. “People are looking at the prices of houses and thinking, ‘If I didn’t have to pay for Suzy’s private education, I could buy a more expensive house.'”
Regrettably, it sometimes takes concern about the middle class to get school boards to invest in quality. That’s what happened some 20 years ago, when Waller High School was converted into Lincoln Park High School, and nearby LaSalle, Newberry and Franklin elementary schools became specialty schools. Better late than never. While these programs were designed to keep or lure the middle-class, they benefit low-income kids, too. For example, almost half the children who attend those four North Side magnet schools are low-income. At Lincoln Park, the number of low-income students is higher than the number that attended Waller before the turn-around began.