A principal and three teacher leaders have been named to run four new small high schools set to open this fall at Bowen and South Shore. A fifth small high school scheduled to open at Orr has not yet appointed a lead teacher.

The small schools will be the first to open under the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative, a centerpiece of CEO Arne Duncan’s school improvement efforts that aims to subdivide large high schools into several smaller, auto-nomous schools. Each school will have its own budget, faculty and administrative staff.

Most of the teacher leaders selected to run the new schools have some of the necessary credentials to become CPS principals. Both of the lead teachers at South Shore’s small schools, Bill Gerstein of the Entrepreneurship School and Doug Maclin of the School of the Performing Arts, have completed all of the requirements to become principals.

CPS policy requires that principals have a master’s degree in education, a Type 75 certificate issued by the state, six years of teaching or administrative experience and 84 hours of coursework.

Historically, teacher leaders at small schools have reported to principals of larger schools and have not been required to have Type 75s. However, each of the new small schools will be assigned its own unit number and will operate as an independent school within a larger facility. School leaders will not necessarily have to act as principals, according to Jeanne Nowaczewski of the office of small schools.

“It’s not an absolute requirement,” she says, pointing out that the Cregier Multiplex, which houses three small schools, is led by a principal who oversees three lead teachers.

At Bowen, guidance counselor Lauralei Jancaric will be lead teacher of the Chicago Discovery Academy, a small school centered on the city’s art and architecture. JoAnn Podkul, appointed lead teacher of B.E.S.T., an acronym for Bowen Environmental Studies Team, has a Type 75 certificate, but lacks the extra professional development required of principals.

“I could pick them up easily if I needed to,” Podkul says. “What counts is that there’s someone who comes forward and is willing to take on the responsibility to act as a liaison to the larger school and the community, and who can do instructional leadership.”

Doug Maclin, who was tapped to head up South Shore’s new School of the Performing Arts, has both a Type 75 certificate and the 84 hours. A special education teacher by training, Maclin has administrative experience as dean of students for the prototype of the Entrepreneurship School, which opened last fall.

Orr has not yet named a lead teacher its Junior ROTC Service Learning Academy. Principal Leon Hudnall is pushing one candidate; teachers who will staff the small school are backing another. There has been “some confusion,” says Maj. Richard Miller, who will serve as the school’s commandant.

Community service and volunteer work will be at the core of Orr’s Junior ROTC small school curriculum, along with college preparatory courses and team-based problem solving.

New schools, old idea

The Junior ROTC Service Corps Academy will be Orr’s first stab at setting up a small school. Both Bowen and South Shore have previous experience with spinning off smaller learning environments.

About two years ago, Bowen was subdivided into five smaller schools that had been created in partnership with the Small Schools Workshop at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Small schools had helped raise test scores and attendance rates at Bowen, says Michael Klonsky, director of Small Schools Workshop.

But after several years of steady gains, Bowen’s test scores dropped in the spring of 2000, and the Board of Education placed the school on intervention. Nearly half of the faculty left, and the small school program fell into disarray.

Last summer, Bowen decided to make a move to bring back small schools. LSC chair Neil Bosanko says he and other representatives of Bowen met with Nowaczewski, then newly appointed small schools chief, just a week before the High School Redesign Initiative was announced in August.

Before intervention, Bowen had three small schools: travel and tourism, dual language and fine arts. This time, they’re going a different route. The Chicago Discovery Academy will use city landmarks and cultural centers to study art and architecture; B.E.S.T. will follow an urban ecology curriculum using nearby wetlands for on-site lessons, such as restoring vegetation in degenerated areas.

At South Shore, Bill Gerstein, who ran a family-owned business in Hyde Park through the late 1990s, began developing the idea for a small school in entrepreneurship two years ago. Last fall he launched a prototype with 130 freshmen.

As the school’s instructional leader, Gerstein says he will develop a college prep curriculum that also helps students play active roles in the community. “We’re not creating little businesspeople,” Gerstein says. “We’re talking about creating a student that thinks like a leader.”

Students will collaborate with community organizations, such as South Shore Bank, Hull House Small Business Development Center, South Shore Cultural Center and Junior Achievement. By working with established business groups, students in the Entreprenuership School will learn how to start a business, develop a product and generate profits, says Gerstein.

South Shore’s School of the Performing Arts will be new this fall. Students will take courses in performance, including expressive dance and music, as well as college preparatory classes.

Another round

Each of the five schools has received a $20,000 planning grant from the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative, an $18 million project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a consortium of local foundations. Each will be awarded an implementation grant of up to $500,000 over three, four or five years.

Last fall, the Redesign Initiative invited high schools to apply for small schools planning grants. Nine did, and the three that won grants had been on intervention for low performance. This spring, funders are soliciting another round of proposals, and giving preference to “satisfactorily performing schools.” However, high schools on probation may still apply, says Pat Ford, executive director of the Redesign Initiative.

Some schools that were not selected in the first round of high school redesign grants are giving up. “We’ve been tinkering around with small schools for a long time, and never had the funding to really do what we wanted to do,” says Principal James Breashears of Robeson High, which was a finalist.

DuSable High, whose small school proposal was declined, plans to try again. A local pioneer in the concept, DuSable was divided into eight smaller schools in the mid-1990s, but a succession of remediation penalties shut down the program.

Timuel Black of the DuSable Alumni Coalition says one idea is to launch an international relations small school.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.