“We’ve still got to get everybody together,” says Carolyn Omar, the local school council chair, commenting on the general atmosphere of the school. “To me, it’s more a motivation issue. I’d like to see motivation in teachers, parents and students. We all need to motivate each other.”
Chicago Panel on School Policy
This non-profit group is establishing a clearinghouse of parent-involvement activities and programs. Contact: Executive Director Barbara Buell, (312) 346-2202.
Every Thursday morning, parents, grandparents and community members are invited to Healy Elementary in Bridgeport for a “second cup of coffee.” The gathering affords the school the opportunity to bring parents up to date on the school’s curriculum. For example, with the science fair fast approaching, the school made science the focus of the November sessions. The school even asked a private-sector partner, Harza Engineering, to send engineers to talk about what a science fair project should contain. More than 40 parents typically attend.
In 1996, the Consortium on Chicago School Research asked Chicago’s elementary teachers: How many of your students’ parents support your teaching efforts? The responses were: nearly all, 29%; most, 43%; about half 10%; some, 17%; none, 1%. Teachers also were asked how many parents do their best to help their children learn. The responses were: nearly all, 11%; most, 33%; about half 23%; some, 32%; none, 1%.
In 1989, Pamela Strain, then a mother of two, was working on a master’s degree in corrections and criminal justice at Chicago State University. She planned to become an attorney.
On this night in January, Chicago lives up to its winter reputation: The weather is brutal. A heavy snowfall, sleet and high winds have hit the city. Yet at 6:30 p.m., Karen Morris, principal of Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy in South Lawndale, is heading for her second quarterly “Ask the Principal” meeting, not home.
Last year, Norma Mendez, a full-time homemaker for 17 years, got a full-time job at Funston Elementary School as a school assistant, helping a teacher with students in special education.
The following are samples from a survey of 6th- and 8th-graders conducted in May and June of 1994 by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.
For the most part, Chicago’s elementary school teachers think that they and their schools do a good job of reaching out to parents, according to a survey conducted in 1995 by the Consortium on Chicago School Research. They also believe that most of their colleagues respect parents and community members. This was true regardless of the income or race of the school’s students or the school’s size. Here is a sample of the questions.
Home visits at transition points to pre-school, elementary, middle and high school. Neighborhood meetings to help families understand schools and to help schools understand families.
Research also shows that schools themselves can have an impact on parent support. Essentially, schools that give, get. First, they must make parents feel welcome; then they must engage parents in activities that promote student learning.
PARENT INVOLVEMENT The Chicago Panel on School Policy is sponsoring its fourth Parent Involvement Forum from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 14 at the West Side Technical Institute, 2800 S. Western. The forum will feature workshops on such topics as effective school governance, parents and high school students, and models for improved education and parent participation. The registration fee is $20. For more information, call the Chicago Panel, (312) 346-2202.
Principal candidates must take 70 hours of coursework in specific areas, including staff evaluation and remediation plans. The Chicago Principals and Administrators Association agreed to offer the coursework for two groups of candidates: assistant principals and other administrators with state principal certification—about 100 have taken the courses or signed up—and principals who have been hired since the coursework requirement was approved a year ago.
In response to a November survey, all 89 of Chicago’s public high schools and transition centers said they were conducting advisories. However, conversations with teachers at a number of schools suggest the term is being used to cover a wide range of programs—from a typical “division,” which deals with announcements and housekeeping, to attempts, like those at Von Steuben, to carry out and even go beyond the board’s advisory curriculum.
Star teachers never give up trying to find better ways of doing things. Paraphrasing Thomas Edison, Haberman writes that “the difference between carbon and diamonds is that diamonds stayed on the job longer.” So, too, with star teachers. Unsuccessful teachers, he writes, tend to believe most of their students should not be in their classrooms because they need special help, are not achieving at grade level, are “abnormal” in their interests, attentiveness and behavior and are emotionally unsuited to school.
The selection process:
Initial screening: 800 to 1,000 people apply each year; they are evaluated on the basis of their transcripts and personal essays.
Final screening: Remaining applicants are screened through the Martin Haberman interview process, with 100 being chosen.
It’s a two-year process that combines night and summer school courses at area teacher colleges with full-time teaching in Chicago public schools. Participants are assigned to schools in groups of four so they get support from each other, as well as from a mentor teacher. In the end, they earn a master’s degree in education and a state teaching certificate.
Barry, 55, said she has always enjoyed helping new teachers and signed up when the system announced it was searching for mentors. She attended three training sessions at the beginning of the school year and received an extensive “Partnership for Professional Practice” guide book covering topics from parent-teacher conferences to offering constructive criticism. She receives a $1,500 stipend for the extra work.
The following are the teacher colleges the Chicago Public Schools has targeted for teacher recruitment. At press time, another 20 visits were to be added.
DePaul (2 visits)
Loyola (2 visits)
Northeastern Illinois (4 visits)
University of Illinois at Chicago
On Feb. 10, Mary Loise, a teacher at Bridge Elementary, stood beaming before a group of DePaul University education majors, most in their early 20s. She showed them photos of the life-size igloo and tepee her 2nd-graders had made. She talked about the need to make children from distressed homes feel secure. And she warned: “You’re not going to be a babysitter; you have to be a taskmaster.”
Illinois teachers are above the national average in their credentials, but below average in job preparation and professional development, according to an October 1997 report by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. The report, based on data gathered between 1994 and 1997, compares indicators of teaching quality in all 50 states. Here’s a sample.
The system’s appetite for new teachers has been whetted by several trends:
Through increased immigration and a baby boom echo, the state’s public school enrollment is expected to increase through 2005-06, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. The upturn began in 1990-91, following a 17-year decline.
The Chicago school system is opening more preschool classrooms and, following a reduction in the mandatory attendance age, more kindergartens.
While Chicago’s top school officials showed their appreciation of local school councils by tossing a party for them recently in the winter garden of the Harold Washington Library, a far different attitude was apparent in behind-the-scenes plans to change the rules for LSCs’ selection of principals. According to a new “Requirements for the Principalship” brochure, aspiring principals not only will have to complete a six-week internship under a principal but also will have to “pass” it. If any school officials have talked publicly about this new pass-fail component, they’ve done it to a very small, closed-mouth group. As Sheila Castillo told Catalyst’s Lisa Lewis, “As far as I know, nobody has seen any of this stuff yet.” Castillo, coordinator of the Chicago Association of Local School Councils, served on the task force that drew up new requirements for becoming a principal, including an internship.