Probation begins to push teachers in new directions

Father Robert Carroll, principal of Carmel High in Mundelein, replaced Region 1 Education Officer Eva Nickolich as probation manager and electrified the faculty in a speech last fall. “You should stop school and read, just read,” he later recalls telling them.

A bootstrap success in Boston

Reading scores at Mason were in the district’s bottom 25 percent, and one of every three 1st-graders typically was held back a year. Nobody even questioned the high retention rate, Russo says. “That was just the way they did things.”

A search for models

Last winter at the U.S. Department of Education, staffers sifted through stacks of applications from schools and school districts hoping to win the district’s first “model professional development” award. After visiting likely candidates in towns and cities across the country, staff sat down to select up to 10 winners. Only five made the final cut.

Growing a faculty

In Chicago, reform helped shift professional development efforts to the school level. Prior to 1988, subdistricts controlled staff development money. While some distributed those funds directly to schools, most subjected teachers to workshops of the traditional sort.

Comings and Goings

AT PERSHING ROAD Susan Ryan, formerly study director of the local school council project at the Consortium on Chicago School Research, is now an assessment specialist for the Office of Accountability. … Natalye Paquin, formerly an assistant attorney in the School Board’s law department, is now senior assistant to Reform Board President Gery Chico. … Ruth Asher-Becker, specialized services administrator in the Office of Specialized Services, has retired.

Openness pledged on capital spending

As the School Board’s Capital Improvement Plan heads into its third year, Reform Board officials are promising to open the planning process up for greater public input and accountability. Activists who have monitored the board’s work to date say they are “cautiously optimistic” that the promises will be kept.

Training ‘the best talent’ for principal jobs

Called LAUNCH (for Leadership Academy: An Urban Network for Chicago), the program will provide all-expenses-paid training over the summer by education and management faculty from Northwestern University and then a paid ($40,000) internship as an associate principal at a Chicago public school for a semester. The School Board is funding the internships.

Affluent neighborhoods get magnet school edge

The new lotteries come in response to a controversial, new Reform Board policy requiring all 42 of the city’s magnet schools to reserve a given proportion of their enrollment for students living nearby—within a mile and a half of elementary magnets, within two miles of high school magnets.

For the 1998-99 school year, this neighborhood set-aside is 15 percent, a goal already met by 35 of the magnets. For 1999-00, it is 30 percent, a goal already met by 20 schools.

Artists swallow hard as state starts testing

At the direction of state legislators, the state board worked first on reading, math and writing and then on science and social studies tests. Tests of physical education and fine arts were at the bottom of the legislators’ list for the Illinois Goals Assessment Program (IGAP).

Playwrights at age 8, opera stars at 10

In kindergarten and 1st grade, Brownell students learn about world cultures by working with artists from Muntu Dance Theatre. In 2nd and 3rd grade, Moore takes over with storytelling exercises that focus on language arts and social studies and that introduce foreign language vocabulary. (Many of the animal characters in the 3rd-grade play are referred to by their Spanish names.)

An infusion of arts

Last spring, the arts education group Whirlwind brought its Reading Comprehension through Drama program to Waters as part of a four-school study. The school could not afford to buy Whirlwind’s services this year— they were free during the study. But some teachers continue to use the techniques they learned from the program’s artists.

Art advocates seek to prove arts’ value

Whirlwind found, though, that it needed more than instincts and theory to sell its program to Chicago schools, which risk probation and reconstitution if reading and math test scores fail to measure up. With little hard research available on the academic impact of the arts, the group decided to commission its own study. Specifically, it would compare reading test scores of children who participated in its Reading Comprehension through Drama program with those of students in the same schools who didn’t participate.

Resources

Illinois Alliance for Arts Education (IAAE)

As the arts education watchdog for the state, IAAE advocates including arts education on school reform agendas. Interested educators will soon be able to tap a new web site.

For information, call Nadine Saitland, (312) 750-0589. The ArtSmart hotline is 1-800-808-ARTS and the Web site address will be www.artsmart.org.

From pyramids to drinking gourds

Rajput divides students into three groups, then shows each group a video of a different aspect of ancient Egypt: mummies, pyramids and hieroglyphs. The groups create their own replicas, using materials borrowed from the Field Museum. Then, each student writes a report on the group’s topic; Rajput helps them navigate the library’s reference section. The lesson culminates in a Jeopardy-style quiz that pits classmates against each other.

From garbage to treasures

In Katrina Baughman’s 1st-grade class at Columbus School, “quilting” is the thread that ties together lessons in reading, writing and social skills. Each child makes a square for a paper quilt, writing his or her name on it and adding a drawing that conveys something personal, such as likes, dislikes or character traits. Baughman then joins the squares and has students practice reading the names.

The scapula’s connected to the …

By linking difficult words to a catchy rhythm, Saberman says, his students create a built-in memory aid that has led to better performance on tests. Some even have written their own science songs, using rap rhythms. Saberman says that music can engage students who normally don’t like school. “Even a kid who’s a gang-banger could be a great rapper,” he notes.

Arts get smart to survive

Arts groups are working more closely with teachers to bring arts back into the fold. For instance, Pegasus Players Theatre hooked up with Beacon Street Gallery, a Chicago regional library and a neighborhood chamber of commerce to integrate arts at three public elementary schools and a high school. Since the artists have been working in these schools, test scores have risen steadily, says Jackie Murphy, director of Lakeview Education and Arts Partnership (LEAP). “Integrating arts into core curriculum means kids pay attention,” she says.

The arts have seen worse days

At Brownell Elementary School this year, 3rd-graders wrote a play together under the tutelage of a professional playwright—it was about zoo animals seeking their freedom from a wily keeper. In the process, they learned something about reading and writing and working together, all essential skills for a satisfying life. Moreover, the project allowed them to see their personal power to create. “By the time they reach 4th and 5th grade [here], they all think they can be a star,” says Brownell teacher Leola Stuttley. What a marvelous gift.

A bootstrap success in Boston

Today, most professional development at Mason is led by the teachers themselves. A “lead teacher” for literacy coaches colleagues and leads an after-school course. Veteran teachers spend time coaching and advising new colleagues. The classrooms of teachers with expertise in technology, early childhood or literacy are designated as “model classrooms” that other teachers can visit by appointment.