Principal James “Jay” Lalley had a similar experience setting up Northside College Preparatory High School for Region 1 on the Far North Side.
Lalley, who was previously principal of the prestigious St. Ignatius High School, was hired a year before the school was scheduled to open in fall 1999. With this lead time, Lalley was able to search several months for an assistant principal and department heads. In some cases, he made his pitch to candidates in person. (See Catalyst, November 1999.)
When the current board took office in 1995, expulsion was required only for the possession or use of a firearm or a “destructive device.” Today, expulsion also is required for any drug offense, the possession or use of an object that could be used as a weapon (e.g., a box cutter) and a number of violent crimes, including arson and robbery. With the change, the number of expulsion hearings leapt from 97 in 1995-96 to more than 1,700 three years later.
From across the country, businesses and charters want to find out mainly how Noble Street financed its new facilities. Connected by a walkway to the Northwestern University Settlement House, the $4.5 million, three-story building features Internet-ready, air-conditioned classrooms, a plush, multimedia auditorium and room to grow.
The insurance program is funded by the federal government and administered by the state. CPS is a partner in recruiting applicants and helping them fill out the forms. Board officials say that they have provided application assistance to parents of about 45,000 children since they launched their outreach campaign two years ago.
The rubble-strewn, broken-asphalt lots on which schools were situated have become functional and aesthetically pleasing campuses. These campuses have colorful play equipment whose use is protected by safety surfaces underneath, new asphalt surfaces upon which designs for games have been imprinted and landscaping that includes grass, flowers and shrubs—-all tastefully enclosed by decorative fencing. The upgrading of the physical facilities makes the statement that these institutions are very important places.
As public schools, charters receive public funding for operations but no funds for furniture and equipment, and bricks and mortar. Ayers and others knew Chicago’s charters desperately needed some capital funding and proposed establishing a revolving loan fund for them. The plan called for the School Board to provide the capital and the IFF to provide the management. Katie Kelly, a management consultant working with LQE, proposed the idea to Ben Reyes, then chief operating officer for CPS. Reyes took it to School Board President Gery Chico, and the board appropriated $2 million.
Like its non-profit cousins, Edison has had start-up problems at Longwood, and its initial test scores, compared with those at demographically similar schools and at nearby schools, are less than glowing. Yet, its some 1,300 seats –about 1,050 for elementary students and 250 for high school students —are in high demand.
In contrast to its lofty name, the Academy of Communications and Technology (ACT) started in a badly aging building in West Garfield Park that once was St. Mel’s Elementary School. Balark, now 17, says students and parents were recruited, along with teachers, to paint walls, pick up and install donated computers and generally make the new school presentable.
ACORN, which stands for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has had a grass-roots political organization in Chicago for decades. In 1997, it began to roll out a charter high school in Little Village to solidify its base there and in Pilsen, both predominately Latino communities. Unable to secure a facility large enough for a full four-year program in either community, the group moved the school in 1999 to West Humboldt Park, a mostly African-American neighborhood.
There are 13 charter holders in the city, more than double the number that first opened schools in 1997, but two shy of the legal limit of 15. They enroll 6,500 students, fewer than 2 percent of the school system’s 435,000 students.
The people who run Chicago’s charter schools, including many former Chicago Public Schools teachers and principals, are motivated much like charter school leaders nationwide. They want to satisfy parents’ demand for an alternative to their neighborhood public schools, while being free from union work rules and local and state regulations to try new educational approaches.
MORE ON CLARK STREET Diane Zendejas, former principal at Horace Greeley, is now director of the Chicago Teachers Academy for Professional Development; she is also responsible for the Libraries and Information Services department. She succeeds Judith Foster, who is now director of instruction for reading, language arts and social sciences, a new department at CPS. Currently, Zendejas is working with Linda Ford to develop the National Teaching Academy of Chicago. Ford, former principal at Brownell Elementary, was brought on board to lead the project. For the past three years, she worked at the University of Chicago Center for School Improvement on school restructuring.
With only 13 schools in a system of almost 600, Chicago’s charter school movement might seem like an interesting but unimportant sideshow. Cast against national studies finding “no evidence that charters are systematically doing better than public schools,” the sideshow may not seem like it’s worth the price of admission. That would be a serious misreading of the potential. To have an impact beyond their walls, charter schools don’t have to multiply to the point where they constitute a competing school system. Nor do all charters have to be stand-outs from the regular public schools. Rather, they need only produce some models worth emulating. And the movement that supports them needs to pay as much attention to this issue of cross pollination as to creating more campuses.
Charter advocates tend to favor laws like Michigan’s. The Center for Education Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based advocate, ranks Michigan’s law second among the 37 on the books today.
With a variety of authorizers, school boards tend to work with charter applicants, says charter expert Ted Kolderie, because they figure “the damn thing could appear in our town anyway, so the practical question becomes, Would we rather have it under our own direct sponsorship?” Kolderie, a senior associate at the Center for Policy Studies in St. Paul, Minn., was an architect of Minnesota’s charter law, the country’s first.