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For the Record: "Chicagoland" and Fenger High

Last week’s episode of “Chicagoland”  on CNN once again featured Fenger High Principal Liz Dozier as a heroine trying to help her students get an education while coping with intense violence in the surrounding Roseland neighborhood. At the same time, Dozier has to deal with the fact that Fenger’s hefty federal grant, which paid for services to support students’ social and emotional needs,  was about to run out.

Fenger is one of 19 high schools in Chicago to be awarded a multimillion dollar School Improvement Grant. Along with Harper, Marshall and Phillips, Fenger was part of the first cohort of schools from 2011.

These grants targeted the bottom 5 percent of high schools in the nation. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s idea was to throw so much money at the schools that lack of resources would cease to be an excuse for low achievement.

The cliffhanger in the last episode of the Chicagoland series, which was filmed last year, is how Fenger will fare once it loses the $6 million grant. The answer: Fenger lost 36 of 100 staff members, including 10 teachers, four security guards and the school’s social worker.  

In fact, few CPS schools have a full-time social worker on staff. In 2012, Dozier fretted about the potential loss of a worker who ran much-needed group and individual therapy sessions on trauma and anger management. 

Altogether, Fenger and the other three schools that received School Improvement Grants in 2011 have lost 126 staff members as their grants ran out this year, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS employee rosters.

These schools were hit with a double whammy:  losing the grant while continuing to lose students, which meant a loss in district funds. This year, Fenger has 87 fewer students compared to last year and the freshman class has just 75 students, down from 102 last year. 

Enrollment loss from neighborhood schools is a citywide trend caused by population loss from  distressed neighborhoods as well as the opening of charter schools that draw students away from traditional schools. 

The Fall 2011 Catalyst In Depth questions whether the School Improvement Grant initiative can save schools that are rapidly losing students. 

To get the grant, schools and districts had to promise to enforce one of several drastic strategies. Fenger and five other high schools fired the entire staff in a process called turnaround. Other schools have undertaken what is called transformation, a strategy in which school employees stay on but the school partners with an outside institution to improve education.

Schools were charged with using the grant money to develop programs that could be sustained once the money ran out. But that challenge is often nearly impossible. Therapy sessions, anti-violence training, tutoring and other supports require staff--and it is hard to “sustain” people without money to pay them.

The early results from the School Improvement Grant initiative, both in Illinois and nationally, have been mixed. A 2012 Illinois study found that attendance, truancy and mobility improved, but not academics.  The findings are similar in CPS.

However, Fenger has posted more impressive results, with the percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards doubling in three years.

A federally-funded national study released in November 2013 showed that two-thirds of schools saw an uptick in test scores, but the rest saw declines. 

17 comments

Anonymous wrote 35 weeks 2 days ago

I believe Ms Dozier has one

I believe Ms Dozier has one of the most difficult jobs in the city and is dedicated to the students of Fenger. I also believe schools have been given the job of fixing the problem, bur not given a proven strategy to overcome the impact of poverty and violence on students.
Fenger's doubling the per centage of students meeting and exceeds is not impressive when you look at the number of students taking the test. There is a trend of improvement, 5.5% in 2010, 5.4% in 2011, 3.4 %in 2012 and 10.7% in 2013. Sounds great? Well the number of students tested has gone down every year. In 2010, 236 students were tested with 13 students meeting or exceeding on PSAE. In 2011, 190 students tested with 10 students meeting or exceeding on PSAE. In 2012, 145 students tested resulting in 5 students meeting and exceeding on PSAE. In 2013, 107 students tested resulting in 10 students meeting or exceeding standards on the PSAE.
This is nothing new the turn around at Harper, Marshall and Phillips all resulted in smaller student populations. It doesn't make sense that the enrollment at these schools was fine before the influx of the extra money and parents all of a sudden made other choices once the schools received that school improvemnt grants.
It does make sense for the district to game their chances for positive outcomes by cuonseling students to other options at the point of turn around.

Anonymous wrote 35 weeks 2 days ago

Yes, but...

I think your reasoning about the reasons behind Fenger's lower enrollment is specious. The murder had a huge impact on the image of that school and the perception of student safety. It is no coincidence that fewer kids started enrolling there after one student was beaten to death on the street. The number of students testing in 2012 and 2013 is a direct reflection of that. 2013 would be the first class of new freshman testing after the murder in 2009.

It is also preposterous to claim that the district and Fenger administrators are actively counseling students at Fenger to "other options." Why would Dozier and her team pursue LESS funding for their school?

Not everything is a conspiracy.

Anonymous wrote 35 weeks 2 days ago

Is increasing from 5 students

Is increasing from 5 students to 10 students meeting or exceeding the standards on the PSAE good enough? That is the data from the CPS website.

Anonymous wrote 35 weeks 2 days ago

not saying it's good enough

not by far. Just stating that claiming the lower enrollment is part of some central office conspiracy to gin up numbers is far-fetched.

Rod Estvan wrote 35 weeks 2 days ago

utilization rate

I believe Fenger is now at a 26% utilization rate, that is a huge problem for the school's survival. I do think the killing had a role in the enrollment decline but the school also has been taking a much harder approach to discipline and that is having an ongoing impact too.

Rod Estvan

Don wrote 35 weeks 2 days ago

100 staff

100 staff for 400 students at Fenger? What's a typical ratio for HS?

Chicago An wrote 35 weeks 2 days ago

Conspiracy? No, but....

Anonymous said, "It is also preposterous to claim that the district and Fenger administrators are actively counseling students at Fenger to "other options." Why would Dozier and her team pursue LESS funding for their school?
Not everything is a conspiracy."

It is not preposterous at all. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I recall Fenger, Harper, Marshall, Phillips (and Orr after a couple of back to back turn arounds by AUSL) dropping huge numbers after turn around. To say the drop was due to the murder at Fenger is just not accurate. And that's no conspriracy, just the facts.

Retired Principal II wrote 35 weeks 2 days ago

100 to 400, Fengers scores and other stats should be up up up

did this 100 : 400 work?
agree with Rod comment fenger's emrollment decline

Anonymous wrote 35 weeks 2 days ago

CPS can barely get families

CPS can barely get families to attend a community meeting/report card pick up day... You really think they can systematically persuade dozens of students not to persuade a school? Are you a 9/11 truther, too? Birther?

And you think CPS wants to be in a position where its schools don't have enough students to operate? They want to have another year of fighting over school utilization? Did you not pay attention to 2013?

Chicago An wrote 35 weeks 2 days ago

No Foil Hats Here

I think CPS policy got tripped up in its constant churn of high level administrators. Of course they didn't want the SIG turn around schools to fail. They culled out the problem students with the hopes that a new culture would attract serious students and raise scores. However, they continued to build charters with the same plan all around those schools while also implementing student based budgeting (which I am sure school-based administrators did not see coming). So they got stuck with a small population by their own design, but their own system killed them with a new budgeting scheme and charter proliferation. Still not sure where you are getting conspiracy out of those facts when really it was just a case of poor planning due to policy chaos.

Anonymous wrote 35 weeks 2 days ago

400 hundred students on the

400 hundred students on the old entitlment formula would get a scholl about 20 teachers. It worked out to about a position for every 20 students. Then schools would also get a librian couselors and other suppoert staff. I undersatnd the new per pupil is supposed to be based on that model. I have to admit that I believe that CPS did it to save money and means less people.

Anonymous wrote 35 weeks 2 days ago

librarian, counselor and

librarian, counselor and support staff

Steven McGee wrote 35 weeks 1 day ago

What about the students?

One possible explanation for a drop in enrollment after a turnaround is that students might be upset that their favorite teachers got fired and the new staff do not seem to be markedly any better than the teachers that were fired. It also marks the school as failing and in the midst of some experimental approach. I think many parents do not want their children to be a part of some large scale experiment and seek out schools that seem to be more stable. When policy makers make projections about the impact of their strategies, it seems they rarely take into account how their decisions will influence the decision-making of the parents and students.

George N. Schmidt wrote 35 weeks 6 hours ago

Gangs and realities across certain communities

During the time Fenger had the extra staff it needs (not "needed" -- every high school has those needs, not just Fenger), the school was able to reduce the gang violence that many of us covered before, during and after the Derrion Albert murder news cycles. Even the best organized high school discipline and security systems are challenged in part of Chicago where the children may not be able to read Common Core levels but certainly know the difference between "GD" and "GDK", or "ALKN" and "LKK..." A problem is that there is a lot of denial across Chicago about the extent to which the gangs, now in their fourth generation, are truly established in many communities -- including those wards around Fenger. The recent problems faced at Englewood are only one of several possible examples.

It's almost boring to remind people that as early as the 1960s and 1970s , when I was beginning my teaching at DuSable and Forrestville (ugcs), the gangs were counseling their "shorties" to do the violence because under juvenile justice the children, even for murder, would be out of jail by the time they were old enough to vote. That didn't change when I was watching the gangs at Amundsen during the late 1980s and early 1990s, at Bowen during the mid and late 1990s, or citywide as the Chicago Teachers Union director of security in the early part of this century.

Ignoring the gangs' traditions and economic power in many Chicago communities is a constant amazement to those of us who have been following these problems for generations. I have a hunch that election day in certain wards witnessed the same gang participation in democracy, Chicago-style, in 2014 as I witnessed out in the 21st Ward in 2006. But since I wasn't at a precinct in any of those wards this year, I can't say for certain until I hear in detail from people worth trusting about such things.

Anonymous wrote 35 weeks 49 min ago

No money. No mission.

No money. No mission. The CITY OF CHICAGO should be ashamed for its continued divestment in the public school system and communities. We will continue to see progress come to a halt. It is a mess.

Anonymous wrote 19 weeks 3 days ago

Failing school

How about the fact that since Dozier took over and
Spent millions each year the academic scores
Didn't even go up 1%. She is a joke and was portrayed as a
Great and caring leader. People wake up. I teach here at
Fenger and she is neither a leader or caring.
All was done for the cameras. She's a hack and
She knows it. She knows she can't turn this school
Around and does nothing. Then she blames us
Teachers who have been teaching for years. Just a joke!!! Never believe
What you see on television.

Karma wrote 19 weeks 2 days ago

Re: Failing school

Thank you for telling the truth about Fenger.

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