Tough choices for turnarounds

Tamoura Hayes started high school with big dreams for college that she already knew would be tough to reach. “C’mon,” she said. “I go to Marshall High School.” Obviously, Marshall’s long-standing academic failings weren’t lost on Tamoura, who went on to say that she “wasn’t even supposed to be here.” Marshall was her last option. Her family couldn’t afford the private school that was her first choice, and she wasn’t offered a slot at Raby, one of the newer high schools sprouting up on the West Side.

Why it matters

CPS and the federal government are pumping millions of extra cash into a cadre of long-failing high schools, in hopes of finally improving them. But systemic obstacles still stand in their way.

Last-ditch tactic

With a big federal grant and a brand-new staff, Marshall is one of more than 800 high schools across the country that have launched turnarounds. Many of these schools face a dilemma: They need students to keep their budgets and staff intact, but find it tough to improve academics with too many low-achievers.

The turnaround and transformation vision

Donald Fraynd, the sprightly former Jones College Prep principal, has led the district’s school turnaround effort since its inception. At Catalyst Chicago press time, he was serving as interim chief of schools for a group of high schools on the South and West sides. But his heart remained with the cadre of struggling schools that he’s charged with improving. Fraynd says these big neighborhood high schools, like Marshall and Phillips, do have a role to play in the district’s future.

Beating the odds

Tamoura Hayes began and finished high school as the district debuted first one, then another, grand experiment to improve Marshall and other failing high schools. Freshman year brought High School Transformation, which later withered and died. Senior year brought a turnaround, a fresh start from scratch.

A special push

When CPS leaders announced that Marshall would become part of its turnaround program, there was an additional push beyond low test scores: The state had sanctioned Marshall because of its badly-run special education program. Nationally, schools like Marshall—in the bottom 5 percent in a state—enroll a disproportionately high number of students who need special services.

Suspending progress?

Out-of-school suspension is a strong predictor of low achievement and high dropout rates. The turnaround at Marshall sparked another try at in-school suspension, a strategy that sounds good in theory but has yet to prove effective in real life.