Footnote Credit: illustration by Kurt Mitchell

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March 3: Attendance

Attendance inched up to 92.8 percent this year, compared to 92.6 percent in 2005. The district unveils more attendance incentives. Students with perfect attendance during March and April will be eligible to win family vacations, courtesy of radio station WGCI-FM. CPS also challenged 10 schools with some of the worst attendance to improve by the end of April, offering students from the two schools—one elementary and one high school—that improve the most a chance to win new athletic shoes.

March 22: Reading

Chicago Public Schools will receive $24.5 million in federal funds to help struggling readers in 6th through 8th grade at 32 schools. The five-year grant will pay for teachers, tutoring, professional development, technology and materials. District officials say the initiative will be modeled after a pilot program conducted in 13 schools last year; 12 schools reportedly improved their reading scores. Chicago received the most money of all eight grant recipients. The list includes Memphis, Tenn.; Newark, N.J.; and San Diego school districts.

March 23: Health

Some 2,400 schoolchildren will receive sacks of groceries to take home each weekend through a district partnership aimed at improving academic performance by ensuring poor kids have adequate nutrition. The program, Nourish for Knowledge, is operating in 16 schools, but officials hope to expand it if it’s well received by parents. “There are so many kids whose parents just don’t have the means to provide enough nutrition,” says Mike Mulqueen, executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the district’s partner.

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Colorado: Principal qualifications

Prospective principals would have to have three years of teaching experience and a master’s degree under a new law passed recently by state legislators, reports the Mar. 17 Rocky Mountain News. Some Republican critics say the state faces a critical shortage of principals and the bill would drive away prospective candidates from other fields such as business and the military. Supporters, mostly Democrats, say principals need classroom experience to have credibility with teachers.

Texas: Student “passports”

Foster children in the state will soon get student “passports,” with critical information such as classes the student has taken, that will move with them if they change schools, according to the Mar. 20 Austin American-Statesman. The state’s department of family and protective services is also working to keep children who change foster families in their home neighborhood or school district. The department also acknowledges it needs to develop an electronic system to track statistics on foster children’s dropout and graduation rates, test scores and special education placements.

New York: Mayoral advice

Reiterating his plan to take control of Los Angeles schools, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa traveled to New York to meet with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to discuss Bloomberg’s schools takeover, reports the Mar. 21 Los Angeles Times. Villaraigosa also met with Schools Chief Joel Klein, business leaders and the head of the teachers union. Villaraigosa wants to keep an elected school board, but is seeking the power to appoint a superintendent and manage instruction and the budget. Some Los Angeles board members criticized his plan as “obsessed with power and control.”

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“We can’t overlook that important first step—getting a little angry.”

MarySue Barrett, president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, on strategies for activists working toward equitable school funding, at a March 16 policy luncheon.

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I’m the principal of a small school. The district allocates only half-time positions at some grade levels, which forces my young teachers to instruct children in multiple grades. I was told I could not hire additional teachers with my state discretionary funds. What are my options?

Jacqueline Baker, Pope Elementary, North Lawndale

Discretionary money can’t be used to pay for a full-time teacher if the district only funds half a position at that grade level, according to Kayleen Irizarry of the CPS Budget office. Doing so is considered “supplanting” district funding, which state law prohibits.

But principals don’t always know all their options, Irizarry adds, and there is a budgetary trick to getting the teachers you need. Say the board pays for half-time positions in both 1st and 2nd grade. Use your discretionary money to pay for two more half positions. Each teacher would then fill two half-time positions at the same grade. “You have to think outside of the box,” Irizarry says.

E-mail your question to

or send it to Ask Catalyst, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 500, Chicago,

IL 60604.

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The school readiness gap between Chicago schoolchildren and those elsewhere in Illinois is shrinking, according to data from the Illinois State Board of Education. In 2005, 25% of Chicago kindergartners were deemed below average or deficient in school readiness skills, compared to 17% outside Chicago. In 2000, 28% of Chicago kids had poor readiness skills, compared to 15% of kids elsewhere. Kindergarten readiness levels were determined by assessments and teachers’ judgment regarding the child’s skills.

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