Some neighborhood teens are opting for more selective schools, such as Morgan Park, or newer facilities, such as Percy Julian. “People have a misconception of who we are—just a school sitting over there not doing anything for its students,” says Assistant Principal Patricia Nichols. “But that’s not so. We offer so many good things in this building.”
At the end of summer school, students who narrowly miss the minimum math and reading scores required for promotion at 3rd, 6th and 8th grade are eligible for waiver consideration. Principals apply for waivers from the regional offices, usually at the request of classroom teachers. Parents also may apply directly through the regional office. The six regional education officers (REOs) make the final decisions under the supervision of Blondean Davis, chief officer of Schools and Regions.
While CPS has taken giant steps in teacher recruitment, there’s much to learn from other districts. For example, with the help of a local foundation, Baltimore is renovating 40 apartments in the hopes of creating an “academic village” for novice and veteran teachers. With all the residential redevelopment under way in Chicago, our city could insist on some special housing for teachers, which would bring them closer to schools in need of teachers.
Sara Arthur, a recent graduate of Beloit College in Wisconsin, is one. “Before Urban Education, I had always pictured myself teaching far from Chicago, maybe in Rockford where I grew up,” says Arthur, who now teaches at Mark Sheridan Math and Science Academy, where she did her student teaching. “I went into my student teaching with preconceived notions of what it was like to teach in a Chicago public school. But I met wonderful kids and had a great experience.”
Why? Concerns about school safety, the school system’s residency requirement and anemic recruiting efforts create barriers between the best new teachers and teaching jobs in the Chicago Public Schools. This paper reports on these and other findings of a mail survey of 340 recent education graduates of the University of Illinois at Chicago, which has become CPS’s biggest supplier; National-Louis University, a major private supplier; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the elite schools CPS is targeting.
Teacher shortages have forced districts to change, and lots have done so sooner than Chicago. “While many districts are still doing the same-old same-old, others are bringing coherence and comprehensiveness to human resources,” says David Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers, a Boston-based consultancy. Haselkorn points to efforts that use technology to interview and screen candidates, that reach out winningly to the hottest prospects and that develop their skills once they’re on board.
By early June, Goldner, disappointed at not having heard from Chicago, submitted applications to city and suburban preschools and to the Glenview and Evanston public schools. She had what she terms “a great interview” with a committee at Burke School on the South Side, but never heard back. “As a kid out of college, I can’t wait to get placed,” she said in late July, her frustration mounting.
With college loans to pay off, Park was looking mainly at salaries. She also was determined to apply only to a district within an hour of her family home in Homewood. By June, she had applications lodged with Naperville, Wheaton, Orland Park, Barrington, Glen Ellyn, Evanston and Chicago. In all, she made submissions to 39 districts. Her goal was to teach 4th- or 5th-graders: “Before they face the peer pressure of junior high, you can set good morals and give them confidence.”
Diaz studied secondary education at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, with a major in English literature. “Michael is one of those extraordinary students,” says Robert Jimenez, a professor of bilingual education and literacy development who became Diaz’s mentor. “He has a hard time keeping his hand down in class, and when he speaks he has interesting things to say.”
Yet DeVries, 22, hesitated about Chicago. The Rockford-area native was worried that Chicago’s starting salary, $33,810, wouldn’t cover the cost of living downtown—”you know, the rent, parking and transportation”—and about being located far from the school that hired her. “And there are rumors you hear about,” she said, which she defined as “safety issues.”
Vogt felt buoyed by his colleagues, mainly strict older teachers who reminded him of those he’d had growing up in Rogers Park. “It was like I was working with my parents,” says the 30-year-old. He also developed a rapport with his students: “They each have terrible, terrible stories, and it’s easy to forget that they are 7th-graders, little kids really. A lot of it is the circumstances. These kids live just off Lake Shore Drive but haven’t been downtown.”
Letitia’s solution: return to education, a field she had toyed with since volunteering as a teacher’s aide in high school in Hobart, Ind. The daughter of a roofing contractor and a college business teacher, Maris earned a degree in elementary education from Valparaiso University. Late last fall, with December graduation upon her, Maris sent her resume to school districts within 25 miles of her home, principally in Indiana but including Chicago. She applied to Chicago on-line through the TRI web site.
As a senior at the U. of I., Jada participated in a year-long round of student teaching that had her in three different schools in Danville and Urbana. She served as an assistant instructor in kindergarten and in 2nd and 4th grades, deciding that she prefers working with older elementary-age youngsters. At graduation, she had no intention of remaining in or near Champaign-Urbana: “These are college towns, and I’m graduating and moving on.”
In the spring, Davis dreamed of joining up at the Academy of Communication and Technology Charter School on the West Side. The school’s co-founder, Sarah Howard, “is the friend of a friend.” But it turned out Howard wants two years’ experience in her hires. Davis considered Detroit, though by the time he got his act together all the social studies positions had been filled.
The Chicago Public Schools has determined it wants to fill its ranks with “fierce crusaders”— idealists driven to teach poor and disadvantaged children—and Anderson’s job is to pinpoint and attract them. As the Illini women tried to figure out whether Anderson was a legitimate charmer or a smarmy salesman—he’s more the former—he searched for signs of their professional ardor.