Posted January 24, 2008–CPS is taking its broadest swing ever at its most seriously underperforming schools, promising to transform four high schools and their four feeder schools into high performers—half of them to be run by the district and the other half to be run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership.

In addition, officials announced plans to consolidate, close, relocate or phase out 11 under-enrolled schools, pending a series of public hearings. (For a full list of the schools on the chopping block, see our story, Schools slated to close. For the dates, times and locations of the public hearings, see Debating the closings.

Officials stressed that students at the turnaround schools will be able to stay in the same buildings as before. The district also announced the formation of the new Office of School Turnarounds, to be headed by Alan Anderson.

Betting on talent

One of the turnarounds, Orr, has already been restructured and broken into small schools. (Read Orr’s history.) Schools CEO Arne Duncan said the difference this time is the district will bring in new, committed and talented teachers—some of whom may already be teaching in the schools, but will have to reapply for their jobs.

“We are betting on talent,” he said. “Great teachers get rehired; teachers that aren’t so strong don’t.”

Jammie Poole, now a resident principal at Fenger, will head the consolidated Orr (currently comprised of Mose Vines, A.A.S.T.A. and EXCEL-Orr Academy). Jarvis Sanford and Brian Sims of the Academy for Urban School Leadership, which already operates Sherman and Harvard elementaries, will oversee the turnaround effort for Orr and its feeders, Morton Career Academy and Howe Elementary. The Office of School Turnarounds will supervise the process at Harper High School (which will keep its current principal, Kenyatta Butler), and its feeders, Fulton and Copernicus.

Paying for excellence

Faculty hired to work at each of the turnaround schools will receive performance incentive pay, with principals eligible for bonuses of about $10,000 and a teacher performance pay scale to be developed later. Instead of local school councils, the schools will have advisory boards in their first year. After that, LSCs may be granted on a school-by-school basis.

The schools will receive the same per-pupil funding as other CPS schools, although the new Office of School Turnarounds may provide extra, targeted funding to the district-run schools on an individual basis and the Academy for Urban School Leadership schools are expected to get additional outside funding from foundations and other supporters.

Harper and Orr will use curriculum provided by the High School Transformation project, and their participation in the project likely will cost the schools $300 per student per year from discretionary funds.

How schools were selected

CPS’ ambitious plan focuses on changing schools that have consistently posted subpar performance.

The four high schools had fewer than 25 percent of students who met or exceeded composite standards on the Prairie State Achievement Exam in 2007, and fewer than 25 percent meeting state standards on average the previous three years. Dropout rates for all the schools exceeded 10 percent, on average, students were absent more than 35 days a year, and fewer than half made expected year-to-year gains as measured by standardized tests.

At the four feeder elementary schools, 40 percent or fewer students met state standards last year or on average over the past three years; and fewer than half of students made expected year-to-year gains in reading and math in 2006 and 2007.

The turnaround high schools are Harper and the three small schools operating out of the former Orr High School—Mose Vines, A.A.S.T.A. and EXCEL-Orr Academy. None of the schools had more than 13 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards in the last three years.

The feeder elementary schools for Harper set for turnaround are Fulton where, on average, only 31 percent have met or exceeded standards over the last three years, and Copernicus, where, on average, only 30 percent have met standards over the last four years.

The feeder elementary schools for the schools at Orr slated for turn around are Morton and Howe. The three-year composite average on ISAT at Morton is 27 percent; at Howe, it is 32 percent.

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