Gates Foundation supports University’s urban education goalsBy William Harms
The University plans to open at least two new schools serving secondary-school students on the South Side in the next three years. The University-sponsored schools will provide eager students, regardless of their tested ability or socioeconomic background, with dramatically enriched learning opportunities to prepare them for college and success when they get there.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given the University’s Center for Urban School Improvement a grant of $6 million to support the design and start-up of these new schools, as well as five additional high schools across the city’s South Side. The University-sponsored schools will be operated by the Center for Urban School Improvement. The five additional schools will be operated by other organizations, receiving support and guidance from the Center for Urban School Improvement over the next four years.
Design work is underway for the first University-sponsored charter high school, which is expected to open in September 2006 and will serve students in grades 6 through 12. The second University-sponsored school is projected to open in 2008, and is anticipated to serve pre-kindergarten- through 12th-grade students when it reaches its full capacity.
“Our plans align well with the Gates Foundation’s vision and theory of action for creating effective high schools for urban children,” said Timothy Knowles, Executive Director of the Center for Urban School Improvement. School leaders and faculty will enact a college-preparatory curriculum, which is interdisciplinary and rich in project- and laboratory-based experiences.
The schools will have a threefold mission: provide students with a rigorous college-preparation program, serve as sites of professional development for Chicago Public Schools teachers and instructional leaders, and play a vital role in community building in the neighborhoods where they are located.
“The new schools will be small, ‘effort-based’ college-preparatory institutions. They will have personalized learning environments to encourage engagement in school work, high academic expectations and the necessary extra supports to enable all students to achieve at high levels,” Knowles said. Throughout their school experience, students will engage in activities that colleges look for—service learning, exhibitions and performance, activities that cultivate leadership, and freshman-, sophomore-, junior- and senior-year research projects will be embedded in the school design.
“Struggling students will be given extensive support, and sufficient time, to succeed. Students unable to meet a grade’s exit standards will be offered additional coursework during the school day, summer seminars and tutorial support. Put another way, while the standards will be non-negotiable, the time we provide to ensure students meet the standards will be elastic,” Knowles said.
“Equally important, students meeting standards will be expected to participate in deeper courses of study—both within the school and beyond. The goal is ambitious and straightforward: every graduate will be well prepared to succeed in a four-year college.”
The schools will grow in a phased manner, Knowles said. When complete, the campuses may enroll up to 600 children in the 6th- to 12th-grade campus and 700 in the pre-kindergarten- to 12th-grade campus.
The Center for Urban School Improvement operates the highly successful North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School and this fall will open the Donoghue School, a new pre-kindergarten- to 8th-grade school.