A raft of past programs have failed to substantially improve the reading skills of middle grade and high school students. CPS is trying once again, as part of a federal project that aims to help teens learn how to analyze complex non-fiction.
Principals have different takes
As school budgets shrink, two CPS principals whose schools are just a couple blocks apart on the South Side have decidedly different approaches to how they fill in the gap.
Principal Senalda R. Grady of Pirie School in Chatham says going after private dollars is the only way to get what she thinks her students need to be successful. That includes items that the district doesn't pay for, such as listening centers, computers and hands-on materials for science.
Parents are chipping in by organizing a candy drive and sponsoring a bazaar that is expected to bring in about $2,000. But those efforts won't begin to pay the bill for the equipment that Grady is looking to supply, and with an 84 percent poverty rate, Pirie must seek deeper pockets.
This year, Grady asked for help. She contacted her father, Walter E. Grady, president and CEO of Seaway National Bank and Pirie's Principal for a Day for the past 10 years. He sent a letter to 34 associates asking for them to support the school. Sixteen of them responded with checks, netting more than $23,000.
That's how Principal for a Day—a program created to help fundraising efforts for schools where parent's don't have access to large sums of money—is supposed to work, say CPS officials. While there is no set amount, participants are encouraged to donate money or resources, says Cynthia Greenleaf, who oversees the program.
Grady says she plans to continue tapping these connections to raise money, and is pulling together teachers to write grants.
"Parents go to other schools and see things that they have," Grant observes. "The parents want their children to have the best education possible. So we have to continually look for ways to get the money. Fundraising is an ongoing, everyday thing."
Around the corner, however, Principal Joan Crisler of Dixon relies on the rent from a cell-phone tower perched on the school's roof, the result of a deal between the district and T-Mobile, USA. The arrangement nets Dixon an additional $24,000 a year. The school also runs a gift-wrapping paper sale to raise extra money.
Crisler says she uses funds from both efforts to buy gift certificates and trophies to reward students for good behavior or attendance and to support parent involvement activities.
Parents at Dixon do not get involved in fundraising, she says. Instead, the PTA hosts training events for parents about curriculum, instruction and family literacy. Some years the PTA has awarded students with savings bonds.
Crisler says she works with whatever amount of funding the district provides and does not actively seek outside financial support, such as grants or corporate sponsorships.
"We don't put the responsibility on anyone else," she says. "I don't spend a whole lot of time bemoaning what we don't have. It would sound foolish for me to say that I don't welcome whatever resources are available. I am just saying I can only control what I can control."