In October 1992, Jenner Elementary, which sits among the high-rises of Cabrini-Green, was thrust into the national spotlight when one of its students, 7-year-old Dantrell Davis, was gunned down on his way to school.
“There is always so much going on in this neighborhood,” sighs Sandra Satinover, Jenner’s principal. “When Dantrell was killed, it was such a bad time for all of us here, especially our students. They see so much. That’s why we believe that it is important for every child in this school to find his or her niche and experience some kind of success, so they will want to come to school and continue until they can make it out of here.”
Motivated by this goal, Jenner had scheduled a variety of enrichment activities, including art, dance, drama and band, into its regular school day.
However, when the school was put on remediation last January, it was forced to rethink that approach. “The staff seemed good, and I know they had a bad year in ’95,” says Phil Hansen, director of the Department of Intervention. “But there was so much going on, that the school was unfocused.”
During the 1994-95 school year, “a beloved” teacher died of AIDS, another had a difficult pregnancy and did not return, and yet another lost teaching time to knee surgery, reports Satinover.
The faculty took remediation as another blow. “We were devastated,” says Zelma Woodson, Jenner’s assistant principal. “We know we had been working hard, but education is not a priority in this community.” In retrospect, says Satinover, remediation was a blessing in disguise. “It helped the whole school focus at the same time on the same issues.”
First, extracurricular activities were corralled and placed in an after-school program, scheduled to begin in mid-September; discretionary funds will foot the bill.
Second, more staff members were tapped to oversee reading groups, which meet for 20 minutes each day for oral and silent reading. Now, the gym teacher, computer teacher, librarian, teacher mentors and staff from the learning center each has a group.
“Even the teachers must read,” says Satinover. “We told them, this is not the time for you to do lesson plans. It’s important that students see their teachers read too, so they will model the behavior.”
Also on order is an Accelerated Reading Program that uses computers to quiz students on the books they read, thus giving teachers a hand in determining whether their children understand what they read. Further, Budget Rent-a-Car stepped in to sponsor a Reading is Fundamental program, which distributes books three times a year so children can create their own libraries at home.
Soon, letters will be sent home asking parents to attend grade-level meetings to help them help their children read, and a parents reading night is being planned.
“If my 7th- and 8th-grade parents don’t show up, I am sending my two security personnel people to their homes to tell them it is important that they meet with me,” says Satinover sternly. “They have to know that this is important for their child, plus know the standards of promotion, the attendance policy and about the consequences of tardiness.”
“We are also making our children write, write write,” notes Satinover. “And they are writing things that are meaningful, like letters to Mayor Daley on how they feel about life in Cabrini-Green.”
The principal notes that most of the language arts ideas sprang from her participation in workshops conducted by faculty at National-Louis University, which Jenner then chose as its remediation partner.
The school plans to use its own state Chapter 1 funds to bring in the Illinois Writing Project from National-Louis. And a foundation is paying for a specialist to work with upper-grade teachers to help children develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
On the attendance and discipline fronts, Jenner is borrowing ideas from other schools. For example, “at random, we’ll call out a name over the loud speaker in the morning, and if they are in school and in uniform, they’ll win a prize.” says Satinover. Prizes will range from a cassette recorder for older students to stickers and buttons for younger students.
The school also is planning a conflict resolution and peer mediation program.
Combined with a year of faculty stability, Jenner’s new focus seems to have had a quick payoff. In 3rd and 8th grades, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state goals on the IGAP reading test rose substantially in 1996; in 3rd and 6th grades, the percentage meeting or exceeding math goals rose substantially, too.
DePaul University, School Achievement Structure:
Austin and Crane high; Brown, Calhoun North, Curtis, Dodge, Faraday, Fuller, Howland Lewis, Libby, Medill, Paderewski, Revere, Tilton and West Pullman elementary.
DePaul University Center for Urban Education:
Clemente, Orr and South Shore high.
Malcolm X College, Direct Instruction:
Parkman and Smyth elementary.
Von Humboldt Elementary.
Northeastern Illinois University:
Earl Jeffery, former principal of Raster Elementary: