From across the country, businesses and charters want to find out mainly how Noble Street financed its new facilities. Connected by a walkway to the Northwestern University Settlement House, the $4.5 million, three-story building features Internet-ready, air-conditioned classrooms, a plush, multimedia auditorium and room to grow.
In contrast to its lofty name, the Academy of Communications and Technology (ACT) started in a badly aging building in West Garfield Park that once was St. Mel’s Elementary School. Balark, now 17, says students and parents were recruited, along with teachers, to paint walls, pick up and install donated computers and generally make the new school presentable.
ACORN, which stands for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has had a grass-roots political organization in Chicago for decades. In 1997, it began to roll out a charter high school in Little Village to solidify its base there and in Pilsen, both predominately Latino communities. Unable to secure a facility large enough for a full four-year program in either community, the group moved the school in 1999 to West Humboldt Park, a mostly African-American neighborhood.
Majority opinion: The original model—six parents, two teachers, two community members, the principal and, at high schools, one student—can work better than it now does; there is no need to change it. In particular, reducing the number of parents would undercut the intent of the School Reform Act to make schools more integral to their communities.
Bringing in an entirely new team does not mean starting over. The underpinnings of the Vallas and Chico accomplishments—the mayor’s commitment to improved schools and state laws that gives him the power to impose his will—remain in place. Chicago’s broad-based school reform community—including corporate leaders, universities, foundations, education groups, community-based organizations and many teachers and administrators inside the school system—remains actively involved, providing hard-earned knowledge as well as continuity. The Consortium on Chicago School Research, unique in the nation, has copious data to help guide the way.