1996 News Briefs
January 22: Firing, fingerprinting
The Reform Board fires 10 employees for criminal acts and seeks disciplinary action against 33 others. It also announces a fingerprinting plan to catch board employees who lie about previous convictions. Within a month, another 50 employees are fired.
January 24: School uniforms
The Reform Board requires all local school councils to vote on whether their schools should require students to wear uniforms. School uniforms were among the first initiatives taken by local school councils. The board likes the idea but does not have the authority, under the Reform Act, to impose it.
January 26: School remediation
Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas announces that 21 schools are being placed on remediation, the least stringent form of intervention provided by the Reform Act. details
February 2: Alternative schools
With $6 million from the Reform Board, 39 non-profit organizations open alternative schools for 1,000 dropouts and 560 disruptive students. Most schools are expansions of existing programs. details
February 14: Education plan announcement
Mayor Daley and the Reform Board unveil their blueprint for improving achievement and accountability, called "Children First." Elements include an expanded school day , mandated summer school for low achievers (details) Direct Instruction (details), freshman academies (details) and other programs; $35 million is earmarked for the effort.
February 20: State-wide charter schools
State lawmakers approve the creation of 45 charter schools—15 in Chicago, 15 in Collar County suburbs and 15 downstate.
March 3: Promotion policy
The Reform Board approves a new promotion policy setting minimum test-score requirements for promotion at certain grade levels; students are given a second chance through summer school. details from June 1996 issue and September 1996 issue
April 17-18: LSC election
Parents are required to pick up their children's report cards. Local school council elections also are held. Following declines in 1991 and 1993, the candidate pool rose to 7,795 and voters to 122,042.
April 18: Tilton case
A U.S. District Court judge throws a wrench into CEO Paul Vallas' plans to oust the principal at one school on remediation; the judge reinstates Debrona Banks of Tilton Elementary, saying that the administration overstepped its authority. Eventually, Vallas puts Tilton on probation, which does give him grounds for removing her from the school.
May 7: Residency requirement
Vallas announces that 4,400 CPS employees not in compliance with a 1980 Chicago residency rule will receive a letter asking them to show proof of an official waiver. If they cannot, they must move to the city within two years or be fired. Vallas says the bulk of violators are support staff, not teachers.
May 18: More test scores
The Chicago Panel on School Policy reports that the percentage of students scoring at or above national norms in reading is on the rise at about 275 elementary schools but is decreasing at about 175. Among high schools, 61 of 66 are losing ground in reading, but 48 are gaining in math.
May 24: Tax hike
After holding the line on property taxes during its first year in office, the new administration says it will collect an extra $49 million next year to support its $2.9 billion budget. The proposed budget includes $3.6 million for high school restructuring.
May 26: Homework requirement
The Reform Board again grabs headlines by approving a policy requiring certain amounts of homework at each grade level. A similar policy was in place but had not been enforced; the new policy has no enforcement mechanism either.
June 3: Test scores
The Reform Board releases reading and math test results showing a continuing decline in the percentage of high school students (9th and 11th grades) scoring at or above national norms. In elementary schools, the percentage is up in reading at all grade levels but one, and either up or level in math. details
July 15: Custodian push-out
855 substitute custodians are forced to seek jobs with private companies as the Reform Board expands privatization of school maintenance.
August 6: Edgar accountability plan
Gov. Jim Edgar signs into law the "Quality First" accountability program. The new law includes mandated skills testing of 3rd- and 5th-graders, a non-binding high school graduation exit exam beginning in 1999, required remedial efforts for students who fall behind, and stiffer penalties for bringing weapons to school.
August 6: Catholic school advice
Vallas tells the Chicago Sun-Times he has asked the superintendent of Catholic schools in Chicago for help designing a high school curriculum with more focus on core academic subjects like English and math. "I think our high schools are in crisis, pure and simple," Vallas says.
August 9: Principal regulations
Gov. Edgar signs into law a controversial bill that restores the School Board's authority to set restrictions on becoming and remaining a principal. Within months, the board extends to principals its Chicago residency requirement. details Then it adds hiring and retention criteria, including veto power over a local school council's decision to retain its principal. details
August 20: ACT scores
The Reform Board reports the first gain in ACT test scores in five years.
September 3: Small schools
The Reform Board approves creation of 14 new small schools, bringing the citywide total to at least 111. Most are schools-within-schools, but some are free-standing.
September 4: Freshman academies
Thirty-five of the city's high schools open with freshman academies, an idea being pushed by the administration. details
September 9: Advisory plan
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Paul Vallas is considering adopting the advisory system used at New Trier High School, a premiere suburban school. Under the program, teachers are paired with set groups of students all four years.
September 25: Anti-truancy program
The Reform Board approves a $6.6 million anti-truancy plan that includes a 24-hour hotline and teams of parents to work with chronic truants and their families. On any given day, 40,000 of the system's 413,000 students are absent.
September 25: Field-trip probation
The board also bars field trips during school hours to amusement parks, skating rinks, bowling alleys and other "non-educational" venues.
September 30: Academic probation
The board places 109 schools—71 elementary and 38 high school--on academic probation. The criterion: having less than 15 percent of students scoring at or above national norms on the reading portion of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills or (in high schools) the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency. details
October 2: Probation follow-through
The Chicago Sun-Times reports probation's next step: sending teams of experts to the schools, and pink-slipping teachers or school administrators. Subsequently the administration discovers it can't dismiss teachers as readily as planned. details
October 10: Employee residency continued
The board announces that school employees will get reduced interest rates on mortgages from 15 financial institutions. The program is aimed at luring the 10,000 who live in the suburbs to relocate to the city.
October 14: After-school programs
The board announces a program to provide 6,000 kids at 20 schools on academic probation with afterschool programs and a hot dinner. Cost: $2.5 million. Mayor Daley supports the idea.
October 18: Equity ruling
The Illinois Supreme Court declines to force the Legislature to make the state's funding formula more equitable.
October 21: Religious outreach
Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas says he is personally writing to more than 80 clergy and clergy organizations, inviting them to gather Nov. 1 to discuss church support of school programs.
November 7: Racial tension
Human Relations Commission Chair Clarence Wood says Chicago schools increasingly face racial and ethnic tensions. He suggests mandated sensitivity training.
November 20: Residency reprieve
The Reform Board gives up on the idea of requiring some 4,000 employees who are living "illegally" in the suburbs to move to the city. It extends its city residency requirement to all new principals.
November 26: Parent crossing guards
The Reform Board announces it will hire 200 parents as part-time crossing guards. This follows a systemwide audit of traffic patterns.
December 5: High school restructuring
The Reform Board releases a 79-page report with proposals for overhauling high schools. details