February 3, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 9

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    NKO Charter School students making scholastic strides as school expands

    By William Harms
    News Office

    The North Kenwood-Oakland Charter School, the first charter school operated by the University, has proved itself to be a source for academic achievement, as enrolled students continue to improve their standardized test scores. NKO recently expanded with the opening of a middle school.

    With a newly opened middle school building and impressive test scores on the Illinois School Report Card, the North Kenwood-Oakland Charter School is making substantial progress in expanding opportunities for the school children it serves.

    The North Kenwood-Oakland Charter School, founded in 1998, is the outgrowth of initiatives by the University’s Center for School Improvement. The pre-kindergarten- through eighth-grade school, which graduated its first class in 2002, prepares new Chicago public school teachers and provides additional training for experienced teachers. Students at NKO are chosen by a citywide lottery and may come from any neighborhood in the city.

    The new middle school building is in the former St. Ambrose elementary school at 1014 E. 47th St., a building that was converted to a state-of-the-art facility in a project completed this fall. The new building accommodates expanded growth at NKO, which is adding a second class to each of its grade levels. With the new building, the school, which accommodates students in sixth through eighth grades, will have an enrollment of 160 students by 2008, about twice its current enrollment.

    The two-story structure has computer facilities and wireless connections throughout the building. Each student has a laptop computer to prepare school work, send and receive e-mail, and keep track of assignments.

    The building also has a science lab and a large multi-purpose room for lunch service, physical education and student performances.

    The school continues to strongly emphasize literacy development, a part of the work of NKO, which is directed by Stacy Beardsley.

    “We want students to develop critical thinking skills so they can gather information and also create knowledge,” said Jared Washington, the Middle School Director. “They should be able to look at a situation from more than one point of view, draw conclusions and then be able to present their ideas to others.”

    Students in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade attend classes in the nearby Shakespeare Building, 1119 E. 46th St., which also is home to Ariel Academy.

    The pre-kindergarten- through fourth-grade students benefit from a program rich in technology and literacy opportunities. They study mathematics through materials from the University’s School Mathematics Project and begin learning Spanish, a language they continue studying through eighth grade.

    About 68 percent of the students come from low-income families, but they score consistently above CPS average test scores, nearly meet state scores in some areas, as well as exceed state scores in other areas.

    Test scores released in December 2004, for instance, show that in mathematics at the fifth-grade level, 74 percent of students met or exceeded the state goals, compared with 72 percent of students statewide. In all CPS schools, 51 percent of students met or exceeded the state goals.

    In reading, 65 percent of all eighth-graders met or exceeded state goals, compared with 67 percent of eighth-graders statewide. In all CPS schools, 55 percent of students met or exceeded the goals.

    Tim Knowles, Executive Director of the Center for Urban School Improvement, said the success reflects the high standards that North Kenwood-Oakland Charter School has established.

    “We focus very much on improving the quality of instruction,” he said. “We want to be a school that outperforms the state on everything. We want to create irrefutable evidence that no matter who walks through the door, we can get them to very high levels of achievement. I don’t mean relative to other CPS schools. I mean students are equipped to succeed at any high school in the city.”

    Thus far, graduates of NKO have entered some of the city’s best high schools. About half go to competitive public schools, while the rest attend other CPS schools or private high schools. Most are expected to continue their education in college, and their work will be followed by the Center for Urban School Improvement.

    “We want to look not just at college-going rates, but college success rates,” Knowles said. “Many of these students are going to be the first generation in their families to attend college, and the data on first generation students in sticking it out in college is not very good.

    “Part of the way we want to hold ourselves accountable is to look at the success of completion rates in college. We want to look at what careers our students are entering. We believe what we do with these 10 years is directly related to where kids are when they are 25. We want to prove it,” he said.

    The Center for Urban School Improvement intends to open other charter schools in the future, including one planned for the former George T. Donoghue School at 707 E. 37th St. (See article in the Thursday, Jan. 20 Chronicle). The CPS board has approved the plan, and the school could open in the fall.