ATTENDANCE BILL State Sen. James Meeks has proposed legislation that would allow public school students across Illinois to enroll in the school district of their choice, without paying tuition. Meeks’ proposal is in line with his campaign to have Chicago Public Schools students boycott the first day of classes on Sept. 2 and instead, board buses to head to top-spending suburban Winnetka to enroll there. The boycott is geared to highlight disparities in school spending across the state. Meeks’ bill would not require a district to provide transportation for non-resident pupils. The Illinois Senate could vote on the plan this fall. …In response to Meeks’ call for a boycott, Gov. Rod Blagojevich called a special session on education funding, but the governor did not attend and neither the Senate nor the House addressed school funding. Blagojevich promoted the session as a platform for Meeks to call for a vote on education funding reform. But Meeks said it was the governor’s responsibility to propose a school funding plan.
PETITIONS FOR ELECTED BOARD Parents United for Responsible Education collected just a few thousand signatures – far short of the 40,000 needed–to put a citywide referendum on the November ballot calling for an elected School Board. PURE said it will continue the petition drive and has set a new goal of 100,000 signatures on petitions that would not be used for a ballot measure, but would instead serve to raise awareness about the board of and make it more accountable to the public, says Julie Woestehoff, PURE’s executive director. Woestehoff says the petition drive, which started in May, was hampered because of summer vacations and preparations for the local school council summit. The continued petition effort will not have a deadline and petitions will not need to be notarized. Students under 18, non-citizens, and teachers living outside of Chicago will be allowed to sign, rather than only registered city voters.
‘NO CONFIDENCE’ VOTE Illinois residents have less confidence in public schools than residents in the rest of the country, according to a recent national poll by the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University and Education Next, a policy journal. Just 44 percent of Illinois respondents said they had confidence in the direction of public schools, compared to 57 percent of those polled nationwide. Asked to grade public schools, 30 percent of Illinois residents gave an A or B; another 30 percent gave a grade of D or F. Nationally, 41 percent of respondents gave schools A or B grades and 24 percent gave a D or F. The Survey of Public Opinion Poll found national support for the federal No Child Left Behind Act on the decline, to 50 percent in 2008 from 57 percent in 2007.
GRADUATION GAP Illinois has the third-largest graduation gap between black and white males in the country, according to a recent report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education. In Illinois, 40 percent of African-American young men graduate from high school, compared to 82 percent of white males. Only two states posted wider gaps: Wisconsin, with a 51 percentage-point gap, and Nebraska, with a gap of 43 percentage points. Among the 10 school districts that enroll the largest number of black boys, Chicago posted the second-widest gap, just behind New York City: 37 percent of Chicago’s African-American boys graduate, compared to 62 percent of white boys. The report also listed the states and districts with the highest graduation rates for black boys, and recommends strategies for improvement, such as more mentoring and support services. The report is at http://www.blackboysreport.org/
MOVING ON John Ayers, vice president of strategic partnerships for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, is leaving the organization to become a consultant. … The Joyce Foundation has hired Angela Rudolph, former assistant to Mayor Richard Daley and a former elementary school teacher, as education program officer. She replaces John M. Luczak, who will serve as education program manager, taking over from Gretchen Crosby Sims, the new director of strategic initiatives. …Cynthia Greenleaf, director of the CPS Department of Resources and Partnerships, is leaving the district to work for an executive search firm and will concentrate on recruitment for education and other nonprofit organizations. Lisa Wiersma will move from partnership coordinator to acting director.
AUTISM PILOT The Hope Institute for Children and Families, slated to open a contract school for students with autism in 2009, will open a pilot program this fall at Chicago Vocational Career Academy. The pilot will enroll up to 35 students with autism or moderate cognitive difficulties. The Office of Specialized Services will select the students for the pilot.
MAGNET COUNCILS Two of the district’s new franchise magnet schools will open this fall with advisory bodies instead of elected local school councils. LaSalle II and Disney II, along with the new Miles Davis, will initially have advisory councils but will have elected LSCs at a later date. (See story on franchise schools here.)
IMPROVING DISCIPLINE Father Flanagan’s Boys Home, a Nebraska-based nonprofit that serves at-risk youth, will provide training to Harper High in the Boys Town Education Model, which aims to curb discipline problems by improving classroom management and teacher-student relationships. Almost 600 schools in 34 states have received training in the model, according to Boys Town. Harper is one of six schools that will join the CPS turnaround program this fall.
PRINCIPAL CONTRACTS Interim principals Pamela Brunson-Allen of Hinton, Kiltae Fernando Kim of Lloyd, Amy Kotz of Gunsaulus, Alene Mason of Joplin, Kimberly Moore of Price and Juan Carlos Ocon of Juarez have been awarded four-year contracts… Paulette Boston of W. Brown, Vivian Edwards of Schneider,Michael Johnson of Reavis, Mona Miller of Tanner and JoAnna Theodore of Lenart have had their contracts renewed.