Jones College Preparatory High School had a similar start-up experience.
In July 1998, the board abruptly decided to convert Jones Metropolitan High School from a two-year business program to a four-year college prep. Like her counterpart at Southside, new Principal Cynthia Barron had a month to get the school ready for fall classes and found herself in charge of two student bodies, one entering the new program and one exiting the old.
“We had approximately 33 days to put ourselves together,” recalls Barron, adding she had so much to do that some nights she slept at the school. “My 30th wedding anniversary was spent in the schoolwith my husband beside me putting up bulletin boards,” she laughs. “And the man is still married to me.
“My first concerns were facilities and student recruitment. I had two things I had to do: transition the students from Jones Metropolitan and bring in the new students under the regional college prep title. I had to pull together a curriculum.”
Barron says she convened a group of staff, business leaders and others from the South Loop community with longstanding ties to the school to help shape a vision for Jones.
“You need to have a vision in order to know what program you’re selling,” explains Barron. “Pulling those people together was probably the smartest thing I’ve ever done. It gave me ‘the year’ that some of the others [college preps] had to put themselves together.”
Jones’ proximity to the Loop, with its wealth of business and university resources, played a large role in the school’s first-year success. Barron was able to tap heavy hitters, like Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce CEO Jerry Roper and Theodore Gross, president of Roosevelt University.
“Jerry held my hand through this period and gave me a think tank kind of experience,” says Barron. “Roosevelt’s president called me a week after I was here to see how he could assist the school. That was the beginning of a very powerful relationship.
“We were interested in staff development, teacher training and inducting new teachers; Roosevelt was very instrumental with all of this. We are now a model for professional development.”