MORE SPECIAL EDUCATION STAFF Following dramatic cuts last year, schools may get between 300 and 400 additional special education teachers and aides this fall, says Gretchen Brumley, CPS director of finance for specialized services. Brumley says the additional staff are needed because of changes to students’ Individual Education Plans and the rising percentage of severely disabled students, who require extra help. CPS officials were sharply criticized last year for cutting 2,200 aides and 500 teachers after adopting a new staffing formula. However, many of the positions were re-opened and, by June 2007, schools had only a net loss of about 500 aides and teachers. Advocates say that district is now adding back even more staff after realizing that the cuts were unworkable. Yet Renee Grant-Mitchell, director of the Office of Specialized Services, says the district is simply responding to the ever-changing needs of students. “We wouldn’t want it to be stagnant,” she says.
INTERVENING FOR SCHOOL SUCCESS A new report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research finds that grades and attendance are far better at predicting a student’s chances to graduate than test scores or family background. The report, chock-full of jarring statistics such as the average number of school days missed by freshmen (19.6, just under four weeks), suggests school officials could cut deeply into the dropout rate if interventions were focused on one key group of students: Freshmen with GPAs in the C- to D+ range who miss one or two weeks per semester. Such students, according to the researchers, face 50-50 graduation odds yet rarely get extra help. The report also identifies a number of school climate issues, such as trust between teachers and students and peer support for academic achievement, that impact GPA and attendance. In schools with healthier climates, the gender gap between boys and higher-performing girls is reduced significantly.
COLLEGE-PREP NETWORK Melissa Roderick, co-director of the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research and a professor at the university’s School of Social Service Administration, has joined with colleagues from Harvard University, CPS, and the University of Chicago Center for Urban School Improvement to launch the Network for College Success. Ten schools have been recruited to participate in the program, which will work with principals on school improvement, emphasizing college readiness: Hope, Roosevelt, Kenwood, North Lawndale, North Grand, Jones, Multicultural Arts, Phillips, King and Dyett. The initiative is funded by a $65,000 grant from the McDougal Family Foundation and a $45,000 grant from Polk Bros. Foundation.
CHARTERS AS MENTORS The Illinois Network of Charter Schools is adding a year-long mentoring program to help public schools adopt the innovative practices begun by Charter Up! schools. Three Chicago charters are winners of this year’s Charter Up! award: Providence Englewood for its Parent Enrichment Program, a series of mandatory Saturday morning workshops that aim to help parents get more involved in their child’s education; Noble Street Charter-Pritzker College Prep in Hermosa for Early College Scholars, which prepares students to apply to competitive universities with rigorous academics, mentoring, internships, extracurricular activities and community service; and Catalyst Charter-Howland in North Lawndale for its mandatory after-school Renaissance Program, which aims to improve academic performance and discipline and keep kids off the streets. Kids participate in cultural activities such as dance, arts and music. For more information about charter schools, go to www.incschools.org.
NEW YEAR-ROUND SCHOOLS Fifteen new schools have adopted year-round schedules this year: Banneker, Bond, Johns, Joplin, Kershaw, Mays, Nicholson, Wentworth, Westcott, Woods, and Yale launched a single-track schedule in August; Edwards, Hurley, Lavizzo, and Tonti launched a multi-track schedule (used for overcrowding relief) in July. For more information about year-round schools, go to www.nayre.org.