May 10, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 16

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    Dignitaries dedicate Charter School today

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Students work in a computer lab at the North Kenwood-Oakland Charter School.
    Members of the community and civic and University leaders will get a chance Thursday, May 10, to see the results of a partnership that has led to the creation of the North Kenwood-Oakland Charter School, established by the University to provide challenging learning opportunities for Chicago public schoolchildren.

    President Randel will join city leaders at a ceremony that will recognize the accomplishments of the Charter School and its partner school, Ariel Community Academy. The dedication will begin at 10 a.m. in the auditorium of Shakespeare School, 1119 E. 46th St., which houses both the Charter School and Ariel Academy. The two schools have become crucial to a revitalizing neighborhood where people are building new townhouses and condominiums and rehabbing the existing housing stock.

    Vacant for more than 10 years, Shakespeare Building was remodeled last year so the two schools could open in the fall. Both schools offer students innovative opportunities. Ariel Academy is a small school within the Chicago Public School system, and North Kenwood-Oakland Charter School is operated by the University.

    The Charter School occupies three floors on the eastern wing of Shakespeare. The oldest portions of the school were built in 1893, and several additions have since been added. The two schools share common facilities, including an auditorium, a cafeteria, a science laboratory, a multipurpose room and a library.

    Charter Schools are publicly financed institutions that are independently operated. The North Kenwood-Oakland Charter School is accountable to the Chicago Public Schools on student achievement, financial management and other issues.

    The North Kenwood-Oakland Charter School, founded in 1998, is the outgrowth of initiatives by the University’s Center for School Improvement, led by Anthony Bryk, the Marshall Field IV Professor in Sociology. The center has worked with Chicago Public Schools on projects aimed at improving student and teacher learning and strengthening school leadership. Once the Chicago Public Schools granted the University a charter and the University then signed a five-year contract to operate it, the school was established.

    Educators believe a strong school community makes for a strong school, and that connection is emphasized in its work. “We want to have a friendly, welcoming atmosphere for parents and the community,” said Barbara Williams, co-director of the Charter School.

    The school has established a meeting room and drop-in center for parents, equipped with a computer and parenting information and educational materials that help some parents complete their high school requirements, allowing them to apply for college courses.

    “The parents know they are valued members of the school’s community,” said Marvin Hoffman, co-director of the school. “Their presence is evident in the classrooms and corridors of the school at all hours, not just during drop-off, pick-up and parent conferences.”

    The school encourages parents to volunteer in school activities and has a Family and Schools Together program for families of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten children. The program teaches parents ways in which they can support their children’s learning.

    The Charter School’s facilities and programs are designed to take advantage of what research and teacher experience have shown to be effective ways of improving education.

    “We believe one of our strengths is our small class size,” Williams said. “Small class size is important because it means we can give individual attention to students. They all do not learn the same way.”

    In a pre-kindergarten classroom, students sit on a carpet before a teacher who reads them a story. Along the walls sit five computers for the children to use. “Technology is important to the students and we want them to begin early,” Williams said.

    Computers are in every classroom and students use them for writing and research.

    The school emphasizes literacy and technology and uses a program developed by the Center for School Improvement to track pupils’ progress. Teachers take a comprehensive approach to literacy, which includes exposure to a language-rich environment, as well as phonics and word study. For students who need extra attention, the school has a teacher trained in the highly successful reading recovery method that emphasizes an individualized approach to students at risk of falling behind in the early grades.

    Additional help and extra time for learning are hallmarks of North Kenwood-Oakland Charter School. About 20 University students tutor youngsters in half-hour sessions twice weekly through the Volunteers in Service to America program, for instance.

    The school opens its doors at 7 a.m. and provides a hot breakfast for students whose parents need to drop them off early in order to get to work. Because it is a Charter School, North Kenwood-Oakland accepts students from throughout the city. Although about 35 percent of its students come from the immediate neighborhood, its enrollment of 235 includes youngsters from as far away as the South Loop and the far South Side.

    North Kenwood-Oakland Charter School has been adding grades each year and will have its first graduating class in 2002. Interest in the school has been strong, and applications far outnumber available spaces, with 400 students applying for 67 openings in the fall.