While most Spanish-speaking students transition out of bilingual education classes before high school, many do not score high enough on the English-language Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to win admission to high schools outside the area, says Martha Monrroy, a counselor at Orozco, an elementary school that feeds into Juarez High in Pilsen.
Albert Foster, the district’s recently retired director of school intervention, attended Harlan in its glory days (Class of 1962). A March 1999 visit to the school left him deeply discouraged. For one, the building was in terrible disrepair: missing hall tiles, beat-up desks, plexiglass windows that had grown opaque, broken heating ducts that left classrooms cold.
“I must admit I had not seen many places that were worse,” he recalls.
High schools that enroll 100 percent or more of their design capacity are deemed “overcrowded” by School Board standards. To calculate capacity, the board uses a formula that includes the number of classrooms, the courses scheduled, and the maximum class size permitted under the existing teachers union contract.
PRINCIPAL CONTRACTS John H. Lewis, former assistant principal at Hope College Prep School, is now contract principal at Libby. He replaces Beverly Blake, who retired this summer. … Christine T. Munns, former assistant principal at Sauganash, is now contract principal. She replaces interim principal Rafael Sanchez. … Philistine Tweedle, former interim principal at Beasley Academy, is now contract principal. … Olga LaLuz, principal at Chase, and Noble L. Pearce, principal at Attucks, have had their contracts renewed. … Based on the recommendations of a hearing officer, Noreen Nagle, who was removed from Prosser High School in October 1995, was officially dismissed as a principal employed by the Chicago Board of Education. Nagle had been reassigned after the board declared Prosser was in educational crisis. At the same time, published reports alleged that Nagle had changed failing grades of the LSC chairman’s daughter.
The biggest loser is Harlan High School, which loses 77 percent of the students living within its Roseland attendance area. One resident mom remembers what people would say when she told them that she attended Harlan. “That’s the dummy high school,” recalls Linda Gore, who has resigned to send her sons to Hyde Park or Whitney Young high schools.
Such schools are caught in a downward spiral. High-scoring kids at feeder elementary schools leave the neighborhood for high schools with better reputations. Low-scoring and special education students stay behind because they have no place else to go. Test scores go nowhere, and the school winds up on probation. The stigma reinforces the bad reputation, and scares off better students and teachers—a cycle that makes it hard for the schools to offer programs that would attract better students and teachers.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a non-profit group based in Arlington, Va., offers the prestigious distinction to experienced teachers whose classroom practices measure up to rigorous standards in their specific teaching area.
Two years ago, CPS and local funders zeroed in on National Board Certification as a means to improve the quality of classroom instruction. They teamed up to mount an intense recruiting drive to increase the number of district teachers who meet these standards. A year ago, only 19 CPS teacher were nationally certified.
Contracts for principals at 175 elementary and high schools are set to expire next June, and councils must notify them by Feb. 1 whether they will be offered a renewal or be replaced.
Under state law, LSCs must complete a state-mandated evaluation process before they deliberate and announce their decision. The evaluation is based on several criteria, including instructional leadership, improvement on academic performance and communication with parents and staff.
There was no shortage of reasons for the School Board to intervene. Juarez had been on probation for five years. A series of principals had come and gone in short order, one amid allegations of grade tampering. Union grievances and shouting matches at LSC meetings were more common than not. Community groups say they were shut out.
The largest number—40 percent—opted for selective schools or programs. These include vocational schools, which require grade level standardized test scores, and magnet schools that may require above average test scores and a separate admissions test. These also include neighborhood schools that will admit students from outside their attendance areas only if they meet selective criteria for a magnet program, such as International Baccalaureate.
Mather High School in West Rogers Park , for example, has a design capacity of 1,520 students; last year, it enrolled 1,839 students, with about a third coming from outside its attendance area. Without the outsiders, Mather’s enrollment would have been about 250 students under capacity.
Principal John Butterfield says that to offer high-level programs, he needs to recruit some students from beyond Mather’s boundaries. “I’ll take kids from outside to make programs available that might not otherwise be there,” says Butterfield, a former Mather teacher who has been principal for 10 years.
The goal would not be easy to achieve. Saddled with a bad reputation after years of dwindling enrollment and bottom-of-the-barrel test scores, Orr had been placed on intervention, a sanction imposed on the system’s lowest-performing schools. Orr had been reconstituted with a new principal two years earlier.
Safety concerns topped the list. Parents and students perceived these schools as gang-infested and dangerous. “You don’t know outright what happened, but people talk. You hear about shootings, fighting,” says parent Rhonda Woods, a postal worker from Roseland.
“People told me about Calumet. They said it was rough,” says Revo Harris, an 8th-grader at Oglesby elementary school in Auburn-Gresham.
Drawn by a growing array of selective magnet schools and programs, high school students and their parents are voting with their feet.
Fifteen year-old Tranette Williams lives near Austin High School but applied to two magnet schools and three magnet programs. “I really, really, really don’t want to go to Austin,” she says, noting the school’s poor academic reputation. “So it was good for me to have all those different choices.”
However, choice Chicago style has dug a deep hole for Austin and many other high schools on the West and South sides. These schools have been left with predominantly low-achieving students and a disproportionate share of special education students.