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Most drug violations in CPS involve an ounce or less of marijuana. Schools are quick to call police, yet rarely have the resources to offer education, counseling or other non-punitive help to students.

CPS awarded grants to "transform" four high schools

This story has been updated to reflect the actions of the Illinois State Board of Education at their June 21 meeting.

CPS was awarded on Thursday a $25 million federal School Improvement Grant to perform what is called "transformation" on four high schools and to turnaround one.

Transformation is a process in which a newer principal works with an outside institution--sometimes a curriculum company or a university--to improve the school without firing all the staff, as in a turnaround. Transformation schools must extend learning time and analyze student data to improve instruction. 

The desire to use the transformation strategy might signal that CPS leaders are not convinced that turnarounds work in high schools. A recent study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research showed that turnaround high schools showed initial improvements in student attendance, but, in other measures, did not make impressive progress.

At its meeting Thursday, the Illinois State Board of Education approved school improvement grants to do transformation for Clemente Community Academy, Bowen High School, Bogan High and Al Raby High. Chicago Vocational will undergo a turnaround. Outside of Chicago, East St. Louis Senior High and Cahokia High also are up for grants. Washington High School was originally on the list to be transformed, but was pulled at the last minute, according to ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus.

The ISBE board packet says Chicago Vocational Career Academy will be transformed, but CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler says the packet is wrong and the school will be turned around as planned.  At the May Board of Education meeting, Principal Doug Maclin talked about the improvements he has been able to initiate since taking over last year--and without bringing in an entirely new staff. Maclin said student misconducts were down and attendance was up.

The $3.5 billion School Improvement Grant program is the federal initiative to try to improve the nation's lowest-performing schools. Al Raby and Bowen, which have fewer than 500 students, will receive about $2.6 million over three years. The other Chicago high schools, with more than 1,400 students each, will get $5.5 million.

Districts can choose one of three methods for reform: turnaround, transformation and restart, which entails a charter school operator taking over a school.

CPS is doing eight elementary school turnarounds this year and only one high school turnaround. CPS did not ask for SIG money for the elementary school turnarounds.

Last year was the first year CPS used the transformation method and, while it is too early for results, initial indicators show some progress. Transformation schools typically use the extra resources to provide more social-emotional and academic supports for students, such as social workers and writing coaches.

When Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the School Improvement Grant program, he considered transformation the least optimal of the three methods of reform because it doesn’t bring a cohort of fresh people into the school. However, transformation is by far the most popular of the reform methods, in part because of the difficulty of finding replacement teachers and staff in some communities.

One of the provisions of getting a School Improvement Grant is that the school must work with an outside entity. In an unusual set-up, CPS’ Office of School Improvement is an approved outside vendor and all the transformation schools on tap are slated to partner with the office.

At the same time, OSI is undergoing changes itself.  At a meeting last Saturday, CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said the office will no longer take on turnarounds. Instead, the unit will work with schools that are on academic probation and in danger of being targets for drastic action.

Brizard says the office will develop systems for schools to use when they are on the edge of failing. “We want them to put in place concrete processes that schools will be required to follow,” he said.

Brizard will also look for more outside organizations to do turnarounds. Currently, 12 turnaround schools are managed by the Academy of Urban School Leadership. In the past, CPS has looked for other groups to do turnarounds, including a charter school operator, but none has entered the picture.

 Of the 250 schools currently on probation, 150 have had that status for at least five years. 

17 comments

Lynn wrote 2 years 9 weeks ago

Step in the right direction.

Arne Duncan thinks transformation is the least desirable option? Well, Arne Duncan is a fool. This is wonderful to hear. Teachers and administration are fully capable of great change when financial, social-emotional, and academic supports are provided to schools to make change. Hear, hear!

Sean wrote 2 years 9 weeks ago

Sometimes, drastic action is needed

Where the faculty is entrenched in practices tried-and-true to bring failure, a turnaround may be necessary.
Where the faculty refuse to follow a new principal, clinging instead to their tenure rights and union contract, a turnaround may be necessary.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 9 weeks ago

I agree

Schools like Bowen, CVS and Washington HS need a quick turnaround with fresh and innovative blood.

Chicago teacher & parent wrote 2 years 9 weeks ago

turnaround, transform schools, same old crap

When the data is looked at (test data) administration still blames the teachers new blood, old blood, entrenched teachers suckling at the public blah, blah, blah... Teachers are easy targets for the couch potato experts. Lack of economic opportunities, poverty, violence, lack of resources available to children, lack of political power has no effect on their success in school...

xian wrote 2 years 9 weeks ago

Teacher rights

and student rights are parallel not at odds with one another.

Students are not vampires, they don't need blood. Turnaround causes too much flowing of blood as it is.

Amazing that people will side with corporate interests at the cost of student blood.

Sarah Hainds wrote 2 years 9 weeks ago

If there's a will, there's a way!

Catalyst - this is not true: "In the past, CPS has looked for other groups to do turnarounds, including a charter school operator, but none has entered the picture." Arne Duncan himself brought in an organization called Strategic Learning Initiatives and their "turnaround" model is very successful and costs 1/4 what AUSL costs. No one understands why CPS won't partner with them to work with more schools - except of course the crony connections between AUSL and CPS. http://www.strategiclearning.org/. SLI's "Focused Instruction Process" successfully improved 8 CPS schools: http://strategiclearninginitiatives.org/about-fip.html.

Sarah Karp wrote 2 years 9 weeks ago

official turnarounds

Sarah Hainds, Thank you for the clarification. In this story, I was talking about official Turnarounds in which an entire staff must reapply for their jobs. My understanding is that AUSL has been the only outside org to do these types of turnarounds. Am I right?

Rosita Chtaonda wrote 2 years 9 weeks ago

Sarah , Isn't Vitale, BOE

Sarah ,

Isn't Vitale, BOE President on the AUSL Board of Directors? Maybe this is why CPS won't partner Strategic Learning Initiative even though they could save 75% of the cost to implement this initiative. Also the monies allocated for Transformation were dispersed because of pressure on the Department of Education to stop the racist firings that are happening in inner city schools because of the "Turn-Around" model. Transformation was originally conceived as a way to decrease the numbers of teachers and staff terminated and to provide professional development for teachers and educational enhancement initiatives for students to strengthen the school communities rather than destroy them. However, although the funds were allocated from the federal government, CPS is not mandated to use the funds in this manner. They can and probably will continue to use these funds to completely undermine the academic infrastructures in "at risk" communities. Their desire is to rid inner city schools of any element of cultural diversity and historical memory.

furmans wrote 2 years 9 weeks ago

SIG grants

Anyone have the results of the ISBE meeting June 21 concerning SIG grants?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 9 weeks ago

SIG Grants

I was told by my Principal that Al Raby, Bogan, Bowen Clemente, & CVCA got funded. Washington did not get a grant. I'm not sure who else applied and didn't get one.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 9 weeks ago

Strategic Learning

This group worked with a few elementary schools several years ago with marginal results. They have never done a high school, nor have they ever done a turnaround.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

What is Failure?

The one question that I really can never get a clear answer on is what is the definition of failure. One definition is "the lack of any success". That is a pretty cold definition for any school seeing as every school experiences some level of success. I feel this system has gotten wrapped up in metrics that poorly define success. Is it an ACT score that defines success? Does that mean a student who gets a 15 will be any less successful than a student who gets a 30? In my experience ACT scores don't mean squat. Its a metric that favors students who test well. Getting a 15 doesn't mean I won't make it. It doesn't mean I should check out, roll over, and accept a life of failure. I know students and friends who got 15's or less, SUCCEEDED in college, and in some cases make much more than people downtown or even us teachers. I am so sick of hearing our schools are failing based on faulty metrics. But what about the graduation rate???? How can I control if a kid is successful or not if they 1)transfer or 2) take some ownership on themselves and come to school. We are so quick to blame the teachers, but how can a teacher or school teach a student that doesnt come. How can we get them there if we don't have programs to get them to want to come to school. Not every student is interested in Math, English, or Science. So I say scrap the metrics being used to evaluate schools. Offer better curriculums that aren't focused on testing standards and make things interesting once again. The WORST thing this country did with education, was to build in "High Stakes" testing. Until this changes, we will continue to WRONGLY accuse schools of failing. I am in no way saying schools are perfect but there are better ways to improve a school other than a turnaround/closure/phaseout/evilschoolaction.

A Chicago Vocational (former) Teacher wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

Turnaround Process

I hope that CPS abandons the Turnaround Method in the future. I do not think it will be effective in any school. At Chicago Vocational, Principal Maclin received excellent support from the faculty and all staff. When he came to CVCA, he brought his own administrative team. Mr. Maclin and his team very effectively motivated the students in a positive way to improve their performance in 3 key areas: attendance, academics, and behavior. For the most part, it was a very positive school year and one that everyone should have been proud of. Mr. Maclin should have been given the opportunity to continue the work without interference from "external experts". He probably also needed more time to get to know the faculty members who would be able to help him improve the school. CPS needs to have more faith in the people they assign to lead schools and give them the support they need to get the job done. Our students, and their parents, responded well to clear, positive communication. The students were encouraged and rewarded in every possible way to try harder, to do better, and to understand that the school is there to help them. Mr. Maclin will be successful again next year, and the year after that and the year after that because of the personal relationships he built with his students regardless of any assistance he receives from OSI's (Office of School Improvement) Turnaround Team. It is a shame that he was not given more time to "turn the school around" on his own. In just one year, he did more good than many of his predecessors over many, many years. The teachers in this building have been abused by this process and they have been unnecessarily publicly blamed, shamed, and humiliated. A process like this one is exactly why the teachers will fight for a strong contract and for the security that it provides. Some very dedicated teachers are being forced into retirement; some have already been hired to teach in other schools; others will join the ranks of the "Displaced Teacher Pool" when the new school year begins. Is this really the way that an effective school system should be operating?

ex-Washington wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

Washington said no

OSI came to Washington to explain the SIG at a few all staff meetings but were met with massive resistance because the teachers couldn't get a straight answer out of the presenters. We wanted to know how the money would be spent, and what would happen if annual goals were not met. Never got any answers, so we involved the alderman and the community, wrote letters to ISBE and told our network chief that we didn't want it

Seikram Ritram wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

Last Minute Pull Out: Washington HS

"Washington High School was originally on the list to be transformed, but was pulled at the last minute, according to ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus."

This is just wrong. Washington didn't pull out "last minute". Washington staff, faculty, AND LSC were resistant from the start. The OSI people, District CEO, and several others came by to bombard Washington with time constraints for the grant and "apply pressure/heat" but from the get-go, none were convinced.

Here's why:
Approximately 75-80% of the grant monies was set aside for "New Positions" including- but not limited to a Data Management Team, Professional Developments, Mentoring Programs (very similar to the New Teacher Training Center at HQ), Attendance Response Teams, and Discipline (all of which Washington already has a handle on; no need to muddy those waters). These members were going to be "hand picked" by a group that the District would have chosen or OSI would have "highly recommended".

Out of 1-2 million dollars for the first year, about $30,000 was set aside for English books/texts/novels... Oh, and a couple of iPad carts. How nice.

Thirty. Thousand. Dollars. Out of 1-2 million....

The grant is VERY specific with regards to how and when the monies are used. The LSC was NOT "on board". And despite MANY attempts at saying no, it had to take bringing the Alderman down to get that point across.

Transformation or Turn-Around; what needs to change are the methods used to test and teach the students. Too much emphasis is placed on teaching to a test. The students are human beings, not machines. Teach them to be cognizant, rational/logical human beings. Don't teach them to cram for a test that forces them to memorize and not think. Teachers are on board for trying new methods of pedagogy, but throwing money at a problem doesn't mean it gets fixed.

Food For Thought: Seiknom Ritram

Rosita Chtaonda wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

To Seikram

If this initiative was about helping students they would be spending 30,000 on administrative cost and 1-2 million on students. However, corporate America has taken our children hostage and are using them as a way to make money. Teachers who blow the whistle on these people are targeted for dismissal and brought up on trumped up charges and fired. Teachers who really care about the welfare of the students find it hard to work in such a corrupt system. Parents much be educated about these issues. Since over 90% of the students are minorities and 99% of these corporations that benefit off of education are not, we must work closely with are parents so that they will be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to send these bloodsuckers and leeches back home!

Anonymous wrote 2 years 3 weeks ago

Washington's SIG application

There was also fraudulent information on the SIG application. For example, it stated "the ILT took the lead. . .conducting an informational meeting with over 70 teachers. . .and small break out meetings to gain school support. . ." It also listed a false school improvement team and lies about the LSC and communit buy-in- which there was none.

Teachers were intimidated. An apology was given by Harrison Peters our network chief; WHERE HE ADMNITTED HOW THEY DID THIS THE WRONG WAY WITH OUR SCHOOL AND IF OUR PRINCIPAL WAS NOT RETITIRING WE WOULD NOT HAVE EVEN BEEN SELECTED however, he after his false apology in front of whole staff- only time HE EVER COMMUNICATED WITH ENTIRE STAFF! he went on and continued to push for this grant- despite our improvement and the OSI rep. stating we should not have been applied for.

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