Charters: Open more, or rein them in?

The Illinois Senate has passed two bills that would give Chicago more charters—in one case, by shifting slots to the city from the suburbs and downstate Illinois. Under the bill sponsored by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), five new slots would be shifted to Chicago, giving the city 35 charters—more than half the statewide cap of 60. The new charters would be solely for truants and dropouts; each charter would be allowed up to 25 campuses. A more ambitious bill, sponsored by state Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), would raise the state’s charter cap to 100 and abolish the geographical restrictions on charter location. 

LAMP lights the way for kids

Lawndale Amachi Mentoring Program is the first local chapter of the
well-regarded Amachi program started in 2000 in Philadelphia by Rev.
Dr. W. Wilson Goode Sr. The faith-based program has won national
recognition for its work to bring together mentors with children whose
parents are in prison.

Helping students raise their ‘EQ’

Spry is one of the few schools in CPS that uses a formal social and
emotional learning curriculum; in this case, one that is called
Responsive Classroom. Next year, however, a $2.2 million program will
bring this type of curriculum—and an extra mental health worker—to 13
schools that have signed on to pilot a comprehensive approach to social
and emotional learning.

What is social and emotional learning?

Social and emotional learning is the process through which people learn
how to recognize and manage emotions, develop concern for others and
establish positive relationships. They also learn how to make
responsible decisions and handle challenging situations. Children are
taught, for example, how to calm themselves when angry.

Teacher’s personal touch reaches troubled students

Every year, teacher Alfea Gordon asks students point blank, “Who do you live with?” She wants to know up front whose parents are living and whose are dead;
who has a mother or father in prison; and who is fortunate to live with
one or both biological parents or caring relatives.

Coaches keep rookie teachers on track

Stephanie Hansen, a new kindergarten teacher at Jensen Elementary, was
having problems in her classroom. Getting 23 rambunctious youngsters to
concentrate on their work was quite a feat, and Hansen admits she
wasn’t doing it very well. She took her concerns to her teaching coach, who suggested
she meet with students in small groups every other day to ensure that
she spent a fair amount of time with each child. The strategy worked.
Once students knew they each would have personal attention at some
point, they settled down. Hansen is among 56 new teachers in Area 8 in North Lawndale to get
coaches from the Chicago New Teacher Center, the two-year-old branch of
the well-regarded teacher induction program at the University of
California at Santa Cruz.

Other priorities

In its fifth call for new school proposals under Renaissance 2010, district officials for the first time are seeking plans from school operators to overhaul low-performing schools. But CPS has set three additional priorities for this latest round: relieve overcrowding, reinvent high schools and launch schools in long underserved communities. Here are the details:

Fresh Start versus Turnaround

The Chicago Teachers Union wants the district to fix failing schools using the teacher-driven Fresh Start program. Here’s a look at their recent academic performance.

Comings and Goings

Over the next few months, the Chicago Police Department and the Office
of Emergency Management and Communications will install remote
connections to provide police with access to security camera footage
from inside and outside schools. More than 4,500 security cameras are
in place in 220 schools. Police and other authorities who respond to
emergencies will have access to real-time video from inside schools.
Officials will carry out routine monitoring on outside cameras.

Q&A with Alan Anderson

Next school year, CPS is taking a gamble that its “turnaround” strategy will transform six underperforming schools with new principals, teachers and curricula. Signaling that the strategy is here to stay, the district created the new turnarounds office, led by Anderson, a one-time engineer who joined CPS as a Broad Foundation fellow. Data and Research Editor John Myers sat down with Anderson to talk about the challenges ahead.

Getting in touch with the heart

Teachers who are best at getting their students to perform better know
there’s more to it than delivering content. Just ask Nikki Williams and
Barry McRaith of North Lawndale College Prep Charter High School.
Seniors in this teaching duo’s English course are required to write a
personal essay every week, an exercise that certainly gives students’
fledgling writing muscles a regular workout. But these papers also
serve another purpose: providing a glimpse into students’ minds and
hearts so that teachers can understand what may be helping or hurting
them in school.