REN 2010 WATCH It’s been three years since Mayor Daley announced his landmark effort to open 100 new schools in six years, and the district is closing in on the halfway mark. Forty-three new schools have opened so far, and another 19 have been approved to open this fall or next year. Yet one prototype Renaissance school—KIPP Youth Village Academy—has already bitten the dust, and two outside-the-box high schools are on the chopping block. Big Picture Back of the Yards and Big Picture Bronzeville, which opened in 2003, may be shut down for low performance.
CEO Arne Duncan has not yet released his recommendations for the next round of school closings, which for the past two years were announced in January. Grassroots leaders who track the impact of closings on displaced students speculate that the announcement will be delayed until after the Feb. 27 mayoral election. Meanwhile, Hosanna Mahaley-Johnson has dropped her chief of staff title and will focus solely on Renaissance 2010 as executive officer of new schools.
SCHOOL CLOSING BILL State Rep. Cynthia Soto re-introduced a bill that would require CPS to announce school closings earlier, hold three public hearings in each affected community and enroll displaced students in better schools. A version of this bill, now known as H.B. 200, passed the state House last year but stalled in the Senate. For this session, Sen. Jackie Collins has agreed to be a sponsor. Before moving the bill forward, however, Soto has agreed to accept input from CPS on the exact language and terms of her proposal.
NEW SCHOOLS APPROVED The School Board in December approved two new Renaissance high schools to open in the fall of 2007. Community organizing group TEAM Englewood won approval for a school to open at the Englewood High campus; and Prologue Alternative High School in Uptown, currently one of several sites under Youth Connections Charter, opted to reopen as Prologue W.E.B. Du Bois Academy, a contract school, allowing it to expand enrollment by 50 percent. (Contract schools are managed by a non-profit and are freed from some, but not all, district policies and guidelines.) … Another alternative high school, West Town Academy, withdrew its Renaissance proposal after it was offered a contract rather than a charter. William Leavy, director of the non-profit that runs the school, cites concerns over losing flexibility in staffing and curriculum.
NO DISPLACED STUDENTS When Sherman Elementary in New City reopened as a Renaissance school in September, 82 percent of last year’s kindergarten through 7th-grade students returned. In fact, enrollment is up 6 percent, reversing a six-year decline. Sherman, now operated by the Academy for Urban School Leadership under contract, is the only one of the district’s Renaissance schools to retain its original student body. All teachers and other staff, save a security guard, are new, however, as is the leadership team. Educators and policymakers are keeping close tabs on how these students fare. “Enthusiasm is high,” says the academy’s Executive Director Donald Feinstein. About 5,525 students have been displaced from elementary schools closed under Renaissance since 2002.
MEASURING IMPACT A new computer model created by two charter advocacy groups suggests charter schools can spur long-term economic growth in Illinois and generate millions of dollars by increasing high school and college graduation rates. More than 80 percent of the projected financial gains come from savings on social services and additional tax revenue from gainfully employed graduates. The tool, developed by the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and Chapel Hill, N.C.,-based Public Impact, showed that charters in Rockford and East Aurora could yield upwards of $10 million for those communities.
CATALYST REDUX Just for the record—and despite a few misdirected phone calls—Catalyst Chicago has no connection to the new elementary school at Howland campus, Catalyst Charter. Still, we wondered how the school, operated by a non-profit created by San Miguel Schools (which runs two Catholic schools here), got its name. “We bounced a few around, and that was the one that seemed to fit our mission,” laughs Principal Michael Neis. “We’re agents of change—probably the same reason you guys chose it for the magazine.”