Robeson hurt by stigma of reconstitution

Robeson’s enrollment is down about 15 percent from last year—to 1,150 students. That’s due mostly to a new promotion policy that holds back low-scoring 8th-graders or sends them to transitional centers. As with other high schools, the uncertainty over the size of the freshman class aggravated staffing problems usually associated with the beginning of the school year. “We really didn’t know how many students were going to show up almost until the first day of school,” notes technology coordinator Tim Colburn.

Growing a faculty

Bob Love, a retired Chicago Bulls star, stands chuckling on stage at Brentano Math and Science Academy in Logan Square, a chain of plastic links stretched across his exceptional armspan. A 3rd-grade boy calmly holds up one end; a 2nd-grade girl strains on tiptoes to hold up the other.

Letters to the editor

If you are really serious in finding ways “to improve the skills and knowledge of the adults who work with the kids,” ask teachers for their ideas and call for an open summit that provides ample opportunity to consider teachers’ real classroom experiences and needs.

Council picks a principal,

At a subsequent meeting, the selection committee narrowed its criteria for a new leader, deciding to look for someone with a college degree in the liberal arts, computer literacy, the ability to collaborate, a connection to outside organizations, and knowledge of school reform, school-based budgeting and curriculum.

A tour of duties

Opened in 1896, McCosh was named for the 11th president of Princeton University, a Scotch-born philosopher, back when Woodlawn was up-and-coming, white and prosperous. Woodlawn is now a poor black neighborhood infested with gangs. “Anyone who says otherwise isn’t telling the truth,” says Watkins. “Why, some of our parents are gang members.” One evening a couple years ago, an 8th-grader was killed on the playground in a gang-related shooting.

Then & Now

Nine opinions on whether Chicago has better principals today than it did in 1989, when local school councils started doing the picking.

Learning the ropes

Principals must be rigorously trained initially and on an on-going basis in administration, budget management, effective leadership, staff development, human relations and effective communication.

Priming the pump

Probation and reconstitution for low-scoring schools. No promotion for low-scoring students. These get-tough prescriptions to remedy educational failure have thrust the Chicago public schools into a national spotlight and generated hope at home.

Comings and goings

AT PERSHING ROAD John J. Maiorca, first deputy director of the city’s Department of Revenue, has been named budget director; he is the third person to hold that job since the Reform Board took office in July 1995. Salary: $99,500. … Dion Smith, formerly senior assistant to Reform Board President Gery Chico, has been named chief of staff for the operations department. Salary: $92,000. … Karen Carlson, a former principal who worked at Leadership for Quality Education, is now the director of the Chicago Academic Accountability Council.

Outside board will review principal credentials

It will be operated by the Chicago Education Alliance, which received a $50,000, six-month contract from the board. The alliance, a consortium of area university education departments underwritten by the Ford Foundation, tapped Roosevelt University Prof. Albert Bennett to serve as chair; the other members are Roosevelt Prof. George Olson, a former dean, and Frank Gardner, a former Board of Education president and subdistrict superintendent who now serves as administrative associate to the alliance. Six alliance representatives will serve on an advisory panel to the review board.

Solid reading gains at 111 schools

The study’s author, Designs Executive Director Donald Moore, counts the improved performance as evidence that reform centered around local school councils is succeeding. Schools with the biggest test-score gains tend to have better leadership, stronger ties to parents and communities, and more cohesive faculties—the qualities that councils were designed to foster, says Moore. The most-improved schools also tend to have more active local school councils than do less successful schools. These factors were measured in 1994 teacher and student surveys by the Chicago Consortium for School Research.

Big plans await money from Springfield

Chicago stood to gain almost $700 million from the package over the next several years, including $300 million for school construction and repair, according to the district’s chief executive officer, Paul Vallas. Possible uses for the other money include:

$75 million to expand the new Lighthouse program to 300 schools.

$21 million to expand the summer Bridge Program to 1st and 2nd grade.

$27 million to provide extra help for kids who have been held back a grade.

$30 million to expand early childhood programs.



Coming to Children’s Aid. In 1992, the Children’s Aid Society opened a unique extended-day program at the new Intermediate School 218 in Washington Heights, then the poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhood in New York. The program has since expanded to include four schools in District 6.

Lighthouse materials get mixed reviews

For the teachers, there are daily lesson plans for the 3rd, 6th and 8th grades, where children face the threat of retention if they don’t hit test-score targets. The plans were written by language arts experts in central office and teacher volunteers, according to Mattie Williams, manager of language arts support. They are based on an analysis of questions on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and on the Summer Bridge curriculum, she says.

Quality vs. Quantity: What researchers say

In a review of more than a dozen studies, researcher Steve Nelson of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory found that they “concur that increasing allocated time, in itself, has little influence on student achievement.” Nelson cites evidence that it would take disproportionately large increases in the amount of schooling to boost student achievement measurably.

Lighthouse lessons on TV

From 3:30 to 4 each afternoon, WFBT Channel 23 would broadcast The Homework Show, featuring concepts from Lighthouse program lesson plans. The lessons would be taught by Chicago public school teachers who had been recommended by their principals and reviewed by the Office of Schools and Regions. Also, the show would use similar reading and math materials and textbooks that Lighthouse teachers use.

Vallas gambles to pay for Lighthouse

Lighthouse popular with schools:

The Lighthouse program, on the verge of being renamed as well, daily provides an extra hour of instruction in reading and math, an hour of recreation and a late-afternoon meal. Currently, 30,000 children at 146 schools are participating, at a net cost of $14 million to the board. The program also is supported by a $4 million, three-year corporate grant and $3 million in reimbursements from the federal government.

More battered than buoyed by reconstitution

Judging from seniors at Robeson High School, reconstitution has increased the supply of teachers there who still have enough idealism and energy to show that, despite enormous frustrations, they still care about kids’ learning. “Most of my teachers are new this year,” senior Rachel Rattley told Catalyst contributor Susan DeGrane. “Half of my teachers seem more concerned.” Classmate Kinte Green agreed, “It seems like more teachers want to help.”