Do you think it’s easier to drop kids now than it was years ago?
You know, now and years ago are so different. … Now, if you say, ‘You’re going to end up being dropped if you don’t straighten up, [kids say] ‘Oh, go right ahead.’ They have this attitude.
To ensure that Chicago’s public school needs are addressed equitably, NCBG advocates the use of a master facilities plan—complete with a detailed school analysis and input from parents and school leaders. The organization is assembling a model facilities plan that it hopes to submit to the board in June.
Kellman, which sits at the southern edge of East Garfield Park but draws many of its 300 students from North Lawndale, has been repeatedly recognized for outstanding academic achievement. A majority of students perform at or above grade level on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, and the school has a waiting list because of its stellar reputation in the community.
North Lawndale College Prep. founders initially envisioned an elementary school but switched gears when parents and local principals told them that what the neighborhood really needed was a college-focused high school, one that would help teens address the problems that could easily sidetrack them from college.
Schools do not operate in a vacuum, so it’s no surprise that those in North Lawndale are struggling. The neighborhood is struggling as well. Median family income is a paltry $20,253. Crime is prevalent; in 2002, the community racked up 35 violent crimes and 56 non-violent crimes per square mile, one of the highest rates in the city.
A collection of facts, figures and news briefs about school reform—both in Chicago and around the country.
Of the more than 70 principals the district has removed since 1995, at least a dozen were interim principals appointed by the board. Of five interim principals the board installed at probation schools last August, two had been replaced by January.
In 1988, the General Assemby stepped over Chicago’s ineffective school bureaucracy by giving unprecedented power to thousands of ordinary citizens. Each school would elect a council of parents, teachers and community members with the power, among other things, to select its own principal.
The mid-April LSC elections are the most immediate challenge. A late-starting campaign season is typical, but this year there is little money to recruit new council members. LSC advocates could not persuade private funders to renew their support—up to $430,000 in recent years—for citywide, community-based recruitment. The School Board has made a contribution to the cause, but it is just $50,000.
Initially, the anger at Truth resided with a group of teachers—largely but not entirely white—who felt that the principal, an African American, played favorites to their detriment. When the School Board removed that principal, pending an investigation into financial mismanagement, the teachers and community activists who supported her were outraged.
1988 Alternative schools
The 1988 Chicago School Reform Act allowed alternative schools, such as those serving incarcerated students, to operate without LSCs.
Some LSC members have asked the School Board to remove the principal, and the principal reportedly has asked the board to dissolve the LSC, an action the board has not taken in two years.
Truth is not the only school in Chicago to suffer from frequent principal turnover. Thirty-three schools have had their leadership change five or more times since 1995, according to a Catalyst analysis of School Board data.
Educators who reviewed the School Board’s preliminary plan for screening principal candidates say setting clear standards is critical.
Unlike many in the Dodge school community, Dolores Thomas was not terribly upset when the School Board closed the school in June 2002 for exceptionally low performance. She even volunteered to serve on a planning team for the school’s reopening. But she is upset now.
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The new council wrote guidelines that included personality traits, such as integrity, as well as experience. It interviewed every candidate who applied, roughly 40. It invited the community to a public forum to hear the three finalists, and it went to the finalists’ schools and interviewed parents, teachers and children there.
“Some LSCs don’t know what a good school looks like,” says Derrick Harris, a community rep at Herzl Elementary who heads the federation, launched in 2002. “Some members don’t know what their roles are and that they have the potential to make a great impact in their schools. We are trying to change that dynamic. This is how and why we came to be.”
national executive director of Parents for Public Schools (PPS) and former head of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, is co-author of a chapter in “Letters to the Next President: What We Can Do About the Real Crisis in Public Education.” (Teachers College Press, February 2004). The chapter by Rolling and co-author Sandra Halladey calls for more school funding and a role for parents in school decision-making.
The first bargaining session in months between the teacher’s union and the city ended after barely two hours, with union President Randi Weingarten blasting the city’s contract proposal as an insult to teachers and “a total kick in the teeth,” according to the Feb. 7 New York Times.
Chart: More principals are heading into retirement
Chart: North Lawndale vs. Collins
Chart: North Lawndale Capital Spending Rate Moves Ahead of Citywide Efforts