Big changes slated for 3rd Ward schools

Phillips would undergo turnaround

02/24/2010 10:00 PM


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The Chicago Board of Education was expected to affirm a plan to “turnaround” Wendell Phillips High School, 244 E. Pershing, at its Feb. 24 meeting, and designate a nonprofit organization, the Academy of Urban School Leadership, as the school’s new operator.

Final results from the board meeting were unavailable as of Chicago Journal’s Feb. 24 noon deadline. The turnaround strategy Chicago Public Schools proposed for Phillips would leave its current students in place while dismissing all adults in the building, from classroom teachers to school janitors. They would be allowed to reapply for their jobs.

Phillips enrolls students from across the mid-South Side area and includes much of the South Loop inside its neighborhood attendance boundary.

At a Feb. 18 meeting sponsored by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), CPS chief administrative officer Bob Runcie called Phillips’ graduation and attendance rates (34 and 68.5 percent, respectively) simply unacceptable and noted an average ACT of 13.8 that was lagging behind the rest of the district.

Officials from the Academy of Urban School Leadership promoted their academic program, promising community input into how Phillips would be remade during a six-month planning process.

Donald Feinstein, the organization’s executive director, said major changes were occasionally necessary for such struggling schools as Phillips.

“Sometimes you’ve got to start from the beginning and start all over again,” Feinstein said.

But the meeting served to spotlight the uncertainty and skepticism that a number of Phillips parents and community members feel about CPS’s plans for the school, which counts Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington and Sam Cooke among a distinguished roll of alumni.

Jacqueline Jackson, a parent who lives in Kenwood, disputed the idea that parents weren’t involved in Phillips and defended current staff.

“I think the staff has supported those students,” she said at the meeting. “It’s a supportive system.”

Mary Rush, a Bronzeville resident who graduated from Phillips in 1959, questioned why CPS didn’t provide money to turn around the school when it was clear Phillips was struggling.

“Why haven’t we had that infusion of funds to Wendell Phillips?” she asked.

A tour last week of Orr High School, a West Side school that the nonprofit operates, left others intrigued by the possibilities for Phillips.

Cautioning that the Orr tour provided merely a one-day glimpse, John Cook, who runs the Bronzeville Community Clubhouse, nonetheless described himself as “thoroughly impressed” by what he saw.

Besides Phillips, the board of education was to vote on a number of major changes for 3rd Ward schools on Feb. 24.

McCorkle Elementary was proposed for consolidation with Beethoven Elementary. CPS originally wanted to consolidate Mollison Elementary with Wells Elementary, but then backed away from that measure.

CPS’s process in remaking neighborhood schools led Dowell to co-sponsor, with Ald. Freddrenna Lyle, a resolution recommending a one-year moratorium on all current and future “school closings, consolidations, turnarounds and phase-outs.”

At a tumultuous city council education committee meeting about the resolution on Monday, Dowell and a number of other alderman blasted CPS’s process, saying they weren’t informed.

That criticism prompted CPS chief executive Ron Huberman to lay out a series of new promises, such as public meetings about how the school action process could be reformed and “state of the state” sessions about schools that are underperforming but not slated for closure.

Dowell said she didn’t know why so many schools in her ward were facing actions, but said that only underscored the need for more information about how CPS recommends schools for closure, turnaround and consolidation.


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By Marinauser from South Loop
Posted: 02/25/2010 10:13 PM

It is not the lack of money that results in the failures. South Loop school wasn't turned around by throwing money at a problem. It was turned around by 1. parents taking an interest in the school and their kids, and 2. admittedly adding the gifted program attracted parents. What would turn around south side schools are intact families that care about their kids, know where they are, and provide a safe environment. Schools and teachers can't fix broken home and poverty issues.

By George from Chicago
Posted: 02/25/2010 10:00 PM

When a school is bad we should all be anxious to get it shut down and reformed. No one should tolerate a bad school. We should all take the blame for bad schools. We give more attention to our cell phone purchase than the we do the quality of school our kids go to. As a parent I see too many parents who do not work with their kids to do homework, too many teachers who have low expectations and care more about their union rights than the kids.

By Margaret Wilson
Posted: 02/25/2010 7:32 PM

It doesn't seem right that so many southside schools are being targeted. We should be working to improve those schools not close them. If half the money spent on closing and turnarounds were put into the schools, I know we would see improvements.