On Jan. 22, the local school council at DePriest Elementary School in Austin voted 5 to 4 not to renew the contract of Principal Ruth Lewis Knight, capping two years of disagreement over the school’s academic direction. Since then, a large section of the community has been up in arms, refusing to take “no” for an answer.
On the spur of the moment, five teachers put one idea into practice: role playing. They conjure up a special education classroom. Four teachers portray students; one of them can’t grasp the lesson, asks that everything be repeated and then forgets what she’s just been told. The fifth teacher plays a frustrated teacher, struggling to keep his cool.
Alice Brent is eager to share something new with her 1st-grade class at Foundations School. Over the weekend, she boned up on the topic of continental drift for a presentation on a homework program on cable television. “I wasn’t going to do all that research without telling you all about it,” she begins.
At 6 o’clock on a blustery Wednesday evening in March, four members of the local school council at Piccolo Specialty School wait patiently for a few stragglers. At 6:15, they get started despite the lack of a quorum. The chair calls the meeting to order and proceeds immediately to new business. The first item is a plan to start Helping Hands, a school-within-a-school that would serve up to 50 special education students.
Losing Local Control, H.J. Walberg and H.J. Walberg, III, 1994
Examined various studies dealing with achievement, school and district size, and school funding sources. Found that students in small schools had higher achievement than their counterparts in large schools, especially at elementary levels.
Haugan received 57 applications, which it whittled to Johnson-Rojas, a central office administrator and a teacher coordinator and a counselor from other schools. There would have been more applicants if not for “rumor on the street” that the interim was a shoo-in, says Paul Zeitler, assistant principal at Von Steuben High. He gave Haugan a pass, explaining, “There’s no sense wasting their time and my time.”
“This wasn’t an easy application process,” says LAUNCH Executive Director Ingrid Carney. “Everyone thinks it’s been rigorous, so only those who were serious about becoming principals submitted applications.” LAUNCH sent recruitment materials to 3,200 individuals inside and outside the school system. Of those, 450 requested applications, and 217 submitted them. Associate principal position sites have not been identified. Candidates were to be selected by April 30.
CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT HEARINGS The final Reform Board hearings on the latest version of its Capital Improvement Plan will be held at 7 p.m. May 5 (Curie High, 4954 S. Archer) and May 7 (Walsh Elementary, 2031 S. Peoria). Copies of the plan, which outlines hundreds of millions of dollars in school repair and construction projects, are available for inspection at all public libraries and Chicago public schools.
Initially, several council members who supported Knight were able to deny the LSC a quorum. Then, when the LSC was able to resume business, more than 100 community members and their children took up the protest, disrupting meetings with loud speeches, chants and heckling. One night, they forced the LSC to cancel a scheduled community forum for principal finalists. “It wouldn’t have been conducive or profitable for them to be jeered,” explains parent rep Miranda Shields.
Half of the 403 school districts surveyed reported problems finding qualified candidates, report the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. These were districts of every kind—elementary and high school, and urban, suburban and rural. Inadequate compensation was cited as the biggest roadblock, followed by job stress and long hours.
“I was with a 1st-grade class, and I really got to know those children good,” Pickering explains. “After a few months, I didn’t even have to be told by the teacher what I should work on with them because I knew them academically. I also got to know them personally, and they got to know me. Sometimes all they wanted to do was talk to me and tell me about their day before they could even think about reading and math.
Pedraza received her bachelor’s degree in history from Northern Illinois University, but she always wanted to teach; so she obtained a state bilingual certificate. Jungman Elementary School in Pilsen welcomed her, assigning her to co-teach the mixed-grade class during regular hours and the 4th-grade bilingual class after school.
For schools, the booklet suggests ways to form partnerships with community organizations and strategies for getting people involved with their schools. For example, it suggests schools find out what’s available for their students from public departments of health, welfare and social services as well as from youth service agencies.
One of Levinson’s most prized moments was teaching a student to read aloud. “She had never read aloud to anyone before. She had no concept about inflections or stopping at the end of a sentence,” she says. “Now when we read, her voice goes up when there’s an exclamation or a question mark. She reads with more authority and confidence.”
While the board’s count includes some tutoring programs that have been in operation for years, it’s clear that the board has increased the system’s tutoring force, largely by paying non-profit organizations to expand their services. As with many aspects of its educational program—alternative schools and probation partners, for example—the board has joined corporations and foundations in supporting non-profits that provide extra services to schools.
Outsourcing has been a hallmark of the administration of Mayor Richard M. Daley, who turned to private contractors for maintenance and security at City Hall and for the operation of many park facilities. Daley, the school system’s ultimate boss, paved the way for similar arrangements at Pershing Road. Working behind the scenes with Republican lawmakers, he won legislative permission in 1995 for the School Reform Board to replace board employees with private contractors. Soon, school custodians were scrambling to get on private payrolls, and a whole facilities department was looking for new employment. Whether this is a good arrangement remains to be seen.