SCHOOL FOR ARTS About 115 people attended a kickoff breakfast to announce plans to create Chicago Public Schools’ first citywide high school for fine and performing arts. The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust and its sister institution, The Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, have already provided planning grants. “Performing arts organizations have been looking at ways to improve diversity among professional performing artists in Chicago,” says Polk Bros. Foundation President Sandra P. Guthman, who is involved with the planning and noted that Chicago is the only urban school district that does not already have a performing arts high school. Admissions would be based on entrance exams and auditions. Others who are participating in planning for the school include Terry Mazany, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust; James L. Alexander, co-trustee of The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust; Charles Slamar Jr., co-trustee of The Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust and senior vice president for Bank of America; and civic leader Pamela Strobel. Planners are looking at models in other cities and working with the Chicago Academy for the Arts, a private high school in the city.

CONTRACT DISPUTE At a City Council education committee hearing on Oct. 18, Ald. Anthony Beale chastised School Board President Rufus Williams because the board did not ratify the new principal contract for Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep. “For some unknown reason, you pulled the contract,” Beale told Williams. This past summer, Principal Dushon Brown was awarded a four-year contract by Brooks’ local school council. At the hearing, Williams declined to comment on the contract specifically, noting that the district is seeking to ensure that school leaders were able to “elevate all the schools.” Julie Woestehoff, director of Parents United for Responsible Education, says legal precedent is on the LSCs side and that the contract would hold up in court. Before Brown accepted the job at Brooks, she was principal at Curtis Elementary, where in 2005 about one in four students met reading standards, and where, over the past five years, pass rates in math have been declining.

PRINCIPAL CONTRACTS The following interim principals have been awarded new principal contracts: Mirna Diaz-Ortiz, Nobel; David Hannsberry, Harvard; Nicole Jackson, Wells High School; Mary McAloon, Christopher; Theresa Plascencia, Farragut High School; Jeffrey Wright, King College Prep. … The following principals have had their contracts renewed: Celia H. Coleman, Banneker; Noemi Esquivel, Addams; Senalda Grady, Pirie; Maurice Harvey, Jordan; Cynthia Hughes-Hannah, Calhoun North; Saundra Jones, West Park; Nancy Mayer, Vaughn; Teresa Moy, Clinton; Miguel Trujillo, Kilmer; Richard Gray, Chicago Military Academy; and Tamara Witzl, Telpochcalli.

AT CLARK STREET Peggy Davis, former chief of staff for CEO Arne Duncan, is the newest member of the School Board. Her term runs through June 2007. She fills the vacancy created when Rufus Williams was appointed board president.

LAWSUITS The Chicago Teachers Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the right of the district’s new online charter school to receive public funds, alleging that dispersing those funds would violate the Illinois School Code because the school is “home-based.” Cook County Circuit Court Judge James F. Henry will decide whether the lawsuit can move forward. At Catalyst press time, a hearing was scheduled for Oct. 31. … Lawyers for plaintiffs who filed a class action lawsuit to reverse special education budget cuts are trying to determine the extent to which students are now being denied aides and may ask a federal judge for another hearing on the case. The plaintiffs lost the first round in U.S. District Court when a judge ruled that they had not submitted enough evidence. The cuts resulted in the elimination of some 950 special education teachers and aides. The suit argues that the cuts violate the 1999 Corey H. settlement agreement, which prohibits the district from segregating disabled children from the rest of the student body.

NATIONAL AWARDS The U.S. Dept. of Education noted the work of 9th-grade biology teacher Brent Hanchey of Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative High School by selecting him for the American Star of Teaching award for Illinois. … Rana Khan, a teacher at Sexton Elementary, won a $25,000 Milken National Educator Award.

CPS ‘HAMLET’ Teachers and students from eight CPS high schools performed “Hamlet” onstage at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the first citywide Shakespearean production in partnership with the district. Participating schools included Kelvyn Park, Chicago Vocational, Chicago Military Academy-Bronzeville, Farragut, Clemente, Manley, School of Leadership at South Shore campus and Von Steuben.

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