October 6, 2005
Vol. 25 No. 2

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    Urban schools benefit from $5 million in MacArthur grant funding

    By William Harms
    News Office

    The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has awarded a $5 million endowment grant to the Center for Urban School Improvement to support its work in strengthening urban schools.

    The center’s mission is to demonstrate that urban schools can be strong learning communities for both children and adults, with the goal of showing that all children can achieve a high level of learning no matter what their race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status may be, said Timothy Knowles, Director of the Center for Urban School Improvement.

    The center currently operates the North Kenwood/Oakland and Donoghue Charter schools, both serving pre-kindergarten- through eighth-grade students. Over the next few years, the center also plans to open three additional charter schools on the South Side, including a high school expected to open in September of 2006.

    The Center for Urban School Improvement plans to eventually have an enrollment of more than 2,500 students in the five schools. According to Knowles, Chicago is the only research university in the country to make such a comprehensive commitment to creating new public schools.

    The Center for Urban School Improvement’s charter schools will represent a new model of a teaching hospital, which emphasizes health rather than patient care together with professional training and applied research. Knowles said the charter schools will serve as sites of excellent education for students and training centers for teachers, school leadership, and as laboratories for testing innovative and promising methods to improve classroom teaching and learning.

    The MacArthur Foundation’s grant is designed to support education reform both in Chicago and nationally. The grant has been made to enable the center to improve student learning through better instruction and to share information about effective school and system practices with multiple audiences, including policy-makers, practitioners and other philanthropies. Additionally, MacArthur’s new grant to the Center for Urban School Improvement is part of its support for comprehensive community revitalization on Chicago’s South Side, where it also is investing in affordable housing as well as community and economic development.

    “We are pleased to be able to support the University of Chicago’s innovative programs to improve the quality of public education in the nation’s inner-city schools,” said Jonathan Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation. “The Center for Urban School Improvement’s work in neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side is aligned with the goals of MacArthur’s New Communities Program, which aims to revitalize many of the same neighborhoods. The center’s leadership will be important for not only improving the future of many of the city’s children, but will also help to anchor revitalization in Chicago’s neighborhoods.”

    Knowles said, “This is a remarkable opportunity to create incontrovertible evidence that children on the South Side of Chicago can learn at high levels. We will create a portfolio of schools dedicated to rigorous teaching and learning for all children; creating a pipeline of well-trained, well-supported educators; and undertaking research and development designed to improve instruction and deepen student learning.”

    The schools will provide students with rigorous college-preparation programs, serve as sites of professional development for Chicago Public Schools teachers and principals, and play a vital role in community building in the neighborhoods where they are located.

    The University-sponsored schools will be at the heart of a network of new public schools on Chicago’s South Side, which are part of the Chicago Public Schools Renaissance 2010 plan, an initiative designed to improve teaching and learning by creating new, small schools across the city.

    The University has made improving public education in Chicago a key institutional priority and has named the Center for Urban School Improvement with its proven track record of creating and operating North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School and effective engagement with the Chicago Public Schools as a leader of this broad imperative. The mission of the center is to create excellent new schools and develop the people and tools that support the dissemination of effective practices within and across Chicago’s schools. The center began providing sustained professional development programs to teachers, student support staff and school leaders in 1988 and established North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School in 1998.

    Students at the charter school outperform other Chicago Public School’s students on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. They do better than students throughout the state in writing, and in some grade levels, mathematics, as measured by the Illinois Standards Assessment Test.

    The center’s approach to professional development combines on-site coaching, demonstration classes, institutes and helpful school walk-throughs. Its technology-based tools are designed to ensure that all school personnel have timely access to student information so instructional decisions are based on sound data.

    The center conceived and administers the Urban Teacher Education Program, now in its third year of preparing teachers for work in the Chicago Public Schools. It also runs the New Teachers Network, a two-year induction program that serves 200 newly certified CPS teachers annually, with regularly scheduled working meetings, in-classroom coaching and online support.

    The Center for Urban School Improvement’s partnership with CPS Area 15, located in the mid-south section of the city, is now in its fourth year. This initiative is providing professional development and coaching to more than 100 principals and teacher-leaders and has resulted in increased student achievement in schools that have received intensive whole- school improvement coaching.

    The University is involved in many other ways with the work of the Chicago Public Schools. The Consortium on Chicago School Research, for example, conducts studies on the system’s instructional outcomes. The School of Social Service Administration has started a community schools program, which operates a program at Donoghue School. The Collegiate Scholars Program brings talented public high school students to campus for classes and other activities.