Improving education locally – but how?

May 1, 2011 at 10:57 am 30 comments

Because we all like to give advice, I thought this could be an interesting topic.  A reader has written in who’s been invited to participate on a new Alderman’s education committee for the ward.  (As an aside, I love that an Alderman would make this a priority.)

Here is her letter and more details about the committee are below.  The challenge is figuring out what can be done at the ward level.   I applaud (more than applaud — celebrate, love, thank, etc) any parent who is willing to take this on.  I don’t fully understand the impact that an Alderman can have on the schools, but I assume having him/her on your side is a good thing.   Any thoughts on where they might start, what some goals should be would be great to hear and share.  My head starts to explode when I think about improving the entire CPS system.  Maybe starting in smaller chunks is easier?


Our previously unhelpful alderman has left office and we have elected a new one who is soliciting input from actual residents of the ward.  Having spoken to our alderman-elect many times during the campaign regarding education I have been invited to serve as a part of his transition team in the area of education.  My only qualifications are that I am a parent, I highly value education for all members of society, and I want to see all of the ward’s schools educate not only the low-income student population that it primarily serves currently but also the middle income students that currently seem to all attend private schools.  I would value input from your readers on what sort of vision they would have in helping to reshape an entire ward’s policy on education from elementary through college!  The schools in our ward are as follows.

Elementary – Greeley, Stockton, Brennemann, Stewart, McCutcheon, and Disney Magnet

High School – Uplift (although our “neighborhood” high school is Senn although not in our ward)

College – Truman Community College


Thank you again for volunteering to be part of the transition team for the 46th Ward. I would like you to serve on the Education committee, and welcome your input as an advisor into the future of the ward.

Below, I have outlined the goals for each committee and expectations for each team member so that every participant understands the commitment they are making.


Within the framework of the committee topic, I would ask that each group address the following questions:

  • What is the committee’s vision for the ward?
  • What values do we want to preserve in the ward?
  • What is working well?
  • What needs to be changed? Identify the top 3 priority initiatives within your committee’s topic that you would like to see implemented in the 46th Ward.
    • How will these initiatives promote economic development in the ward?
    • How will these initiatives promote sustainability and environmental responsibility within the ward?
    • Who will these initiatives immediately affect and how will they be involved in attaining the goals?
    • Who else will be part of the solution (identify stakeholders and roles)?
    • What are the goals to reach these three initiatives and how will we measure success (include timeline if necessary)?


Time commitment: Members will be asked to attend one meeting each week for 3 weeks. Meetings will be 1-2 hours in length, and team members may be assigned ‘homework’ to complete before the next meeting. These assignments will include policy research and document writing. Once we hear back from you and your team members that you are able to fulfill this commitment, someone from my transition team will assist with assigning the first meeting date. During your first meeting, you will schedule your next two meetings with your committee, so please plan to discuss dates and times that will work for you.

Deliverables: Each committee will produce a report that includes a Vision Statement and will address the questions listed above. This document will be submitted to my office for my review.

Follow Up: A meeting will be scheduled so that I have the opportunity to discuss your report with the group. These findings will inform the board of the Ward Master Plan.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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30 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Backyard  |  May 1, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    One agenda item for such a committee: Check into how well each of those schools (and pre-schools) are educating kids with special needs. That’ll be telling.

  • 2. BuenaParkMom  |  May 1, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    My sense is that there are a lot of issues with the special needs populations in these schools. One of the biggest issues per the SIPAAA’s (School Improvement Plan for Advancing Academic Achievement) in the elementary schools seems to be the high mobility rate in the schools. Meaning that anywhere between 40 and 60% of the elementary school children are moving in/out of the schools within the time frame of a year. It’s hard for me to tease out how they are doing with special needs kids versus non-special needs kids though because it doesn’t seem like CPS publishes data on this. Do you have any suggestions for obtaining this information. I assume we’ll what to sit down with the principals of the schools at some point in the process who obviously have this information, but I can’t seem to find this information broken down pubically.

  • 3. Backyard  |  May 1, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    Rod Estvan of Access Living could tell you how to obtain such data.

  • 4. cps parent  |  May 2, 2011 at 7:55 am

    I would advocate for the opening of both a new accelerated elementary school and a new accelerated high school in your ward to attract the middle class students who may feel marginalized by the current system. With the Tier structure, it’s much more difficult for middle class students students to get into the top schools — your ward is all or mostly all Tier 4 which requires the highest scores. While these are not neighborhood programs like the schools that you have highlighted above, location is a critical decision factor for any parent making a school decision (to avoid lengthly commutes) and this would be a key benefit.

    Now that LT has an Academic Center, perhaps it would make sense for Taft HS to become a SE High School. Even if this is not the right location for a new SE school, there is clearly demand another SE school.

  • 5. HSObsessed  |  May 2, 2011 at 8:44 am

    If one of your goals is to make the schools more appealing to middle-class families, it’s a good idea to look at what has worked at dozens of other schools over the last ten years, which have used a variety of techniques successfully, and sometimes a combination of a few methods. Many of the methods were aimed at getting the middle class families in the door to give their neighborhood school a chance. Others were geared toward making parents feel like the school wasn’t “just” a neighborhood school but had something extra.

    Tuition-based preschools: These were a radically new concept ten years ago, and a crazy idea that the Chicago public schools could actually charge money for a product they were offering, but the prices were a fraction of what people were paying for private care, the hours were extensive. They quickly became very popular programs that had the effect of drawing families for the first time to schools like Alcott, Agassiz and Oscar Meyer.

    Afternoon and weekend events: Schools hosted story hours and play times open to the public, or craft fairs or farmer’s markets, or low-cost arts classes. Nettelhorst did a lot of this.

    Daily before and after school care: Many parents who opt for private schools do it because there is low-cost afterschool care available on site, whereas relatively few CPS schools have this option. One nearby magnet school that my daughter was accepted to had neither before nor after school care, and my husband and I both worked inflexible hours at the time. When I crunched the numbers to have a sitter come in the morning for 1 hour to do drop off, and to have my daughter get picked up to go to an afterschool program off site for 1.5 hours, it was about the same cost as total tuition and fees for a nearby church elementary school. We didn’t go that route, but I’m sure many have done so based on that alone. South Loop school has always had extensive non-school hour care, and even a summer camp, and this in combination with its gifted and fine arts magnet program really helped make the school boom.

    Special programs within the school: Many schools that became popular were magnet clusters or regional gifted centers, or even both. Since they had special programs, people from outside the neighborhood applied and were accepted, so there was a perception that it was a desired school, so more people were attracted to the school, got involved once they were in, scores went up, more people were interested, and there was a virtuous cycle. Bell, Blaine, Beaubien and more recently Coonley are good examples of this.

    But what an alderman or education committee can do to foster this is another question. I feel that the impetus for changes to a school have to be organic, from within the school, most likely from neighborhood parents who decide that they are going to make their school THE choice for their own children and those of their neighbors. Once that’s in place, I guess the alderman can make sure that the parents group gets cooperation from the principal of the school, since that has certainly derailed efforts in the past, and the alderman can also bend the ears of CPS officials who are in charge of making special programs be put into place with proper funding.

  • 6. Mayfair Dad  |  May 2, 2011 at 10:08 am

    A member of the alderman’s staff should attend the monthly LSC meeting of every elementary and high school in the ward. Ideally this staff member or members would become community reps, providing a direct information pipeline to the ward office.

    Bi-monthly breakfast meetings between the alderman and elementary & high school principals. The quickest and surest way to improve schools in the ward is to improve the quality of principals. The alderman needs to know who the strongest instructional leaders are, and who the weaklings are.

    From these breakfast meetings, a goal for all ward schools can be established: 90% meets and exceeds, 50% exceeds state standards. Some schools will be close to this range, some will be nowhere close. Alderman will work with the principals to determine a reasonable timeline, what resources are needed, what support from CPS is lacking, whatever. But the principals will be held accountable to the goal.

    Now the alderman will know what the schools need — the principals will hold the alderman accountable to fight for the requested supports/resources.

    The alderman’s office should lead the process to apply for federal grant money and other funders to roll-out IB programs at ward high schools.

  • 7. BuenaParkMom  |  May 2, 2011 at 10:14 am

    I agree that parents need to be a big push behind this. In fact, independent of this committee there is a group of parents attempting to organize a “concerned parents” group. I think previously middle class parents probably felt like there just wasn’t any point to such a group and that trying to change the situation was futile. I see this as a process that has to start with the students already in place in these schools. I don’t want a school that “teaches to the test” but I couldn’t in good conscious send my child to a school with such low test scores! If the children are getting a good education shouldn’t they be able to pass these tests without drilling, ect?

    I think the suggestion of looking towards other schools that have successfully improved is a good one. However, I guess my vision would be a school that improves for all children and not just because the school gentrified completely. Are they an examples of schools like this within CPS? Interestingly I heard a story on NPR last Thursday that mentioned a public boarding school in Washington DC (not sure if it was a charter). I wonder if that would be a good solution to the mobility problem for low-income or homeless students. It sounds extreme, I’m sure but if you could give a kid that sort of stability during the week would it help a kid like that. Sort of give them what the extreme wealthy have?

    If anyone has any schools they think we should look at as models let me know. I think Frazier International is one (I know it’s a magnet, but I really want to know what they are doing to get such a low-income population to be successful).
    Ultimately, I think the more “middle class attractants”, for lack of a better phrase, there are in a school the better they school will be for all

  • 8. BuenaParkMom  |  May 2, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Really love your input Mayfair Dad! I am a big fan of the IB curriculum myself and would love to have it in our schools. I will definately be suggesting these type of meetings!

  • 9. magnet school mom  |  May 2, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Senn is a few blocks from me. I take my kids to Franklin, a haul down LSD, the local school here was NOT an option. I was lucky. Others take their elementary school to the surrounding private schools. I was not impressed with Hayt. Pierce is much better and so is Disney. Will I send my kids to Senn in the future when they are old enough? If they can’t get into a SE high school, maybe. Other than the limited IB program at Senn, what else is happening? This is huge since the kids could walk to school. The ward should make this a priority in keeping middle class folks like me here instead of packing my bags in a few years to go to h.s. in Oak Park, Brookfield, Riverside, Hinsdale, etc.

  • 10. HSObsessed  |  May 2, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Senn has had a two-year IB program just for juniors and seniors but this past year, they put into place the full IB program that runs all four years. Perhaps this will help them bring up PSAE scores for students in the program, which will help attract more future high-achieving candidates. Also, Senn just got approval in the last few months for a new performing arts magnet program starting this fall. I haven’t seen any details on how that will shape up, and the website has no details. However, I’m not sure that a fine arts/performing arts program will do much to attract middle class parents. I know that Lincoln Park High School has had one forever, and it has become popular, but for a long time, the LP IB program was the only reason to consider LPHS over a SEHS, and never the performing arts magnet program.

  • 11. BuenaParkMom  |  May 2, 2011 at 11:09 am

    I was actually looking at Senn’s website last night and their IB program. It looks like they also have an initiative along with Pierce to get authorization for a middle years IB program where children would go to Pierce for the first portion and then feed into the last portion at Senn. I thought that seemed really smart. It doesn’t make much sense to have an IB program at the high school level if you haven’t taught the kids at an appropriate level to allow them to succeed with the instruction.

    I wonder a few things. Could elementary schools in an area work together (i.e. pool resources in terms of curriculum, share a foreign language, art, or music teacher, aftercare)? Could you do a “Friends of the Schools of the 46th Ward” group for fundraising or do these groups have to serve only one school?

    How do you think an Alderman could encourage business participation in our schools and community volunteering in our schools?

  • 12. copy editor  |  May 2, 2011 at 11:11 am

    One thing the alderman can help with is fundraising. Tunney has done a good job of putting the squeeze on the Cubs to get funds for the schools in his ward. Uptown doesn’t have an organization with the same deep pockets/PR needs, but it has some businesses that can help out the schools. If they know that schools are important to the alderman, they’ll step up.

  • 13. HSObsessed  |  May 2, 2011 at 11:17 am

    The wording of the IB programs is often confusing. Just to clarify, the IB Diploma Program is for grades 11 and 12 only. The Middle Years program is for grades 6 through 10th. Senn just put into place the 9th/10th grade part of their IB Middle Years program. As BPM says, it looks like Peirce is a candidate for an IB Middle Years program, so they would cover 6th-8th grade of the IBMY, which would be a really nice addition for the school and the neighborhood. Here is more info on all this:

  • 14. hmom  |  May 2, 2011 at 11:19 am

    It seems like an alderman could be especially helpful when it comes to potential facility improvements and safety concerns. Playground upgrades and replacing concrete with grass/artificial turf has helped a lot of schools. On the safety side, maybe the alderman could host/facilitate conversations with the CAPS program and other relevant parties. If you’re looking into attracting new programs/magnets it seems like STEM programs are really popular right now and that could be something new to bring to the area that could energize the community.

  • 15. Mom2  |  May 2, 2011 at 11:58 am

    For high school, in order to attract the middle class parents, I think you must have at least one if not two programs/groups within the school that are selective in nature – IB and double honors has worked well for Lincoln Park. Parents are then more willing to “take the gamble” of sending their child to a “neighborhood” high school because they know that their children will be in most classes with other kids that care about education with parents that care and are dedicated, etc. The types of kids that your child makes friends with in high school is very critical given the issues of peer pressure at that age.

    For elementary school, you don’t necessarily need the selective/exclusive programs, but you do need to show that the school can fully accommodate and stimulate those students that are learning at and above grade level in all subjects.

  • 16. Grace  |  May 2, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    For a look at other successful CPS schools, according to teh Illinois State Board of Ed, here’s a link
    Click on Illinois Honor Role

    For info on the IB program from DePaul U., here’s a link:

    Nice to know an IB student can earn college credit while in h.s.

    DePaul University awards credit to students who have taken an International Baccalaureate program either at the Diploma or Certificate level. Standard or Higher level score results determine the amount of credit awarded to students at DePaul.

  • 17. Grace  |  May 2, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Just remembered that Illinois is one of the states that has adopted Common Core standards in English and Math from the Dept. of Ed. Here’s a link so you can see what that will entail.

  • 18. ChicagoGawker  |  May 2, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Can some describe IB by giving examples of projects or some of the curriculum at elementary and HS? What makes it distinctive ?

  • 19. Grace  |  May 2, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Don’t have personal experience, but here’s a link to CPS info on IB programs.

    The De Paul web site on IB lists 14 schools that hvae the curriculum. It also leads you to the international IB site.

  • 20. Mayfair Dad  |  May 2, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    @ 8 BuenaParkMom

    I have met your new Alderman Cappleman and he struck me as a bright and caring guy, very service oriented. I predict he will be a tremendous asset to your community. He has a lot of good ideas.

  • 21. macK  |  May 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    If a school doesn’t have after care or after school programs, I think the alderman’s office could try to link the school up with some possible providers in the neighborhood. Are there churches, daycare providers, or other groups that could provide these services?

    I don’t think have an SE elem or high school in your neighborhood is the way to go. But I do think an alderman could push for a comprehensive gifted program for an elementary school and special programs such as IB at the high school level. Again, could the alderman’s office help connect the schools with organizations in the community (like Truman College) that might be able to help create these special programs?

  • 22. BuenaParkMom  |  May 2, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Does anyone know of an alderman who has been involved in their local schools? My alderman-elect asked me to ask because he would be interested in talking to them. Thanks for your help and ideas!

  • 23. Hawthorne mom  |  May 3, 2011 at 7:25 am

    I know Harry Osterman plans on being as supportive as possible to the schools in his ward. Your alderman might try brainstorming with him. He’s a terrific person and really is there to serve the area.

  • 24. HSObsessed  |  May 3, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Our alderman has been a big supporter of our schools for a long time, and she is retiring, so I’m sure she’ll have time to pass along her advice: Vi Daley, 43rd ward.

  • 25. copy editor  |  May 3, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    And like I said earlier, Tunney has been helpful to the schools in his ward. He’s been great.

  • 26. RL Julia  |  May 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    rey colon has been active and helpful in our school – as has deb mel.

  • 27. vb  |  May 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Just because Senn has an IB program, that doesn’t mean it’s good. I heard that there were approx. 100 students in the Senn IB program and only 3 received IB diplomas, which is a much different diploma from a Senn HS diploma. A well run IB program might have a 60-80% IB diploma rate. I hope my numbers are wrong, but that’s what I heard. I don’t know if Senn publishes it’s IB diploma rate. Some schools are very proud of their IB success rate and they tout how many students scored a 4 or above on their IB exams.

  • 28. BuenaParkMom  |  May 18, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    Just an update to those who are interested, I think we have come up with some good initiatives with this little project. I don’t know if I’m at liberty to discuss them quite yet but the intention is to have them rolling out this summer so I will certainly come back and update you guys on what the plan is at some point.

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