Woodlawn, University partners in education through Charter SchoolBy William Harms
As the teachers and 160 students of the newly opened Woodlawn High School marched into the auditorium of this University-operated charter school Tuesday, Sept. 26, an audience of University leaders, Woodlawn residents and other community members was on hand to applaud the group.
For the dedication of the third campus of the University of Chicago Charter School and its first charter high school, President Zimmer spoke at the event with remarks of praise for the launch of the new school: “Nothing we do as a society is more important than educating our children. The University of Chicago is very proud to be part of this partnership, which reflects the values of the University.”
Joining Zimmer at the dedication of the campus, which shares space with Wadsworth Elementary School at 6420 S. University Ave., was James Crown, Chairman of the University Board of Trustees; Alderman Arenda Troutman, whose 20th Ward includes Woodlawn; State Sen. Kwame Raoul; Woodlawn community leader, Joseph Strickland; and Hank Webber, Vice President for Community and Government Affairs at the University. Hosanna Mahaley, New Schools Officer and the head of the Renaissance 2010 initiative for the Chicago Public Schools, also attended the event.
A video chronicling the hopes and dreams of Woodlawn’s students and parents also was shown. One of the directors and producers of the video is Woodlawn freshman Shani Edmond, a graduate of North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School, the University’s first charter school campus, established in 1998. “As a student leader, I plan to set the pace for success,” said Edmond. “My goal is to demonstrate what it actually means to get admitted to college and graduate from college with success.”
The Woodlawn campus’ secondary program begins in sixth-grade under a model designed to improve the transition to the traditional high school grades. Enrollment consists of 50 sixth graders and 110 ninth graders. By 2009-2010, it will enroll 590 students and will graduate its first class in 2010.
Timothy Knowles, Director of the Center for Urban School Improvement, which operates the school, said the mission is ambitious: to prepare all its students for success in college, develop new knowledge about Chicago’s communities through student research, service and leadership, and serve as a site of professional development where educators enhance their capacity to teach.
The school day, which begins at 8:15 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m, is about three hours longer than the normal day at Chicago Public Schools. The school year is 190 instructional days long, compared to 173 at Chicago Public Schools.
Students already have become engaged in challenging ways of learning. For instance, they are currently studying A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, who grew up in Woodlawn. Their studies will include attending and getting an inside look at Raisin, a musical based on the prize-winning play, which is currently playing at Court Theatre. Court Theatre, on the University’s campus, is one of the school’s partners.
The curriculum and graduation requirements are linked to college entrance requirements. Students must complete three years of laboratory science and social sciences, and by taking double periods during the freshman year, they will have five years of English and mathematics.
Open to students throughout the city, the school is intended to serve Woodlawn in particular; 43 percent of the campus’ students reside in the school’s attendance zone. In general, the zone runs from 60th to 67th streets and from Stony Island Avenue to Evans Avenue.
Barbara Crock, a former teacher, coach and administrator in public schools in Chicago, Boston and San Francisco, is director of the campus and Victoria Woodley, who also has extensive experience in Chicago Public Schools, is the director of academic and social supports.
Major funding supporters of the high school are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Chicagoans Ken and Anne Griffin.
Students at the North Kenwood/Oakland campus of the University of Chicago Charter School have achieved academic success, according to the 2006 data from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. That report showed that an average of 79 percent of NKO’s third- through eighth-grade students met or exceeded standards in mathematics; and that an average of 79 percent of NKO’s students in the same grades met or exceeded standards in reading.
In addition to North Kenwood/Oakland, the University of Chicago Charter School has a campus at Donoghue, 707 E. 37th St., which opened last fall. In its first year, the majority of Donoghue’s kindergarten- through third-grade students made more than one year of progress in reading, with 52 percent of students meeting reading benchmarks in June 2006, compared to 13 percent at the start of the school year.