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The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

Cover Stories

August 18, 2005

Almost a third of the city's community areas—23 of 77—have school overcrowding problems. Fourteen of the 23 communities have been overcrowded for a decade, and a major capital improvement plan launched in 1996 has brought little relief. One CPS official admits the district is only "treading water" in solving overcrowding.

August 18, 2005

In a small, sunny library on the city's Northwest Side, eight faces beamed relief after a month of grueling budget meetings. A rookie local school council turned veteran after approving Monroe Elementary's tightest budget in years.

Faced with a $177,000 decrease in discretionary money—the state and federal poverty funds that councils control—new council members forced a compromise with the principal over spending priorities. When the dust cleared, three teaching positions and three school aides had been slashed from the $1.1 million discretionary budget.

August 17, 2005

Most learning-disabled students in Chicago Public Schools are diagnosed at a late age—typically, at 8 or 9, while in 3rd grade or later. Experts say children whose disabilities are diagnosed that late have very little chance of catching up to their classmates academically.

Through interviews and a review of school records, Catalyst tracked the stories of three learning-disabled 6th-graders at Casals Elementary in Humboldt Park, which has a higher-than-average special education referral rate and a higher-than-average percentage of learning-disabled students.

August 16, 2005

With 39 percent of teachers new to Chicago resigning within five years, top administrators under Schools CEO Arne Duncan know the district has a problem with teacher turnover. It has increased both the staff and money devoted to the mentoring of new teachers, but local and national experts say the program falls short of what's needed.

"I would commend Chicago for embracing mentoring, however, the training for mentors is not sufficient," says Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

August 16, 2005

Gads Hill is the very picture of a modern early childhood facility. Located in North Lawndale, the center has six preschool classrooms, each with special reading lofts and an abundance of materials.

Teachers wear bright blue polo shirts emblazoned with the Gads Hill name. Activities, meals and other services start at 6 a.m. and run till 6 p.m., five days a week, 12 months a year.

In the last 18 months, site Director Burma Weekley has overseen a surge in enrollment, with the number of pre-schoolers soaring from around 50 to 110.

August 16, 2005

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. That shift to locally controlled schools made Chicago unique in the country.

August 16, 2005

Ralph Martire, an enthusiastic numbers cruncher, had just finished explaining the details of his school finance reform plan at a town meeting in Grayslake when state Sen. Wendell Jones weighed in.

Martire's plan, which would lower property taxes and raise the state sales and income taxes, may make economic sense, said Jones, a Republican from northwest suburban Palatine. But it would fail politically, he continued. "Here's why," Jones explained, turning to the audience of 75 to 100 people. "Who's willing to pay higher sales and income taxes?"

August 16, 2005
By: Ed Finkel

Ten years ago, a new contract between the Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union called for a joint committee to look for ways to improve teacher evaluation and to investigate such innovations as peer review and a student achievement component.

A committee was duly formed in October 1994 but went nowhere amid changes in union leadershi and control of the school system. Five years later, the committee was taken out of the contract.

August 16, 2005

Sojourner Truth Elementary School in Cabrini-Green is on its seventh principal in three years. The local school council blames central office for the turnover. Teachers blame them both. "We've been left out to dry," says one. "That's the general consensus." Without skilled leadership at the school, tensions between factions escalated, slowing school progress.

In the view of Charles Payne, a Duke University professor who has studied Chicago schools, urban schools are cauldrons that need expert tending.

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