University establishes charter schoolSchool will serve as demonstration site, model for public schools
By William Harms
Working with community leaders in North Kenwood, the University is establishing a new charter school that will be a demonstration site for improved teaching methods and will serve as a model for other Chicago Public Schools.
The new school will open in fall 1998 in the education wing of St. James United Methodist Church, 4611 S. Ellis Ave., and will initially enroll a total of 115 students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first and fifth grade. By the time it is fully operational in 2001, it will be a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school with 240 students.
President Sonnenschein said, "The future of our city and of our nation depends fundamentally on the quality of our public schools. The University is firmly committed to the success of this school and to the success of the students who will attend. This is a wonderful opportunity for all of us."
The school will employ master teachers at each grade level who will work with visiting teachers from other schools. The visiting teachers will spend residencies of varying lengths to enhance their teaching skills.
Anthony Bryk, Professor in Education and Director of the Center for School Improvement, said that as a professional development center, the charter school will "play a role in education like the teaching hospital plays in medical training. It will provide opportunities for practitioners to learn their craft in a setting that allows for supervised observation, practice and reflection.
"In keeping with that concept, one of our key objectives in creating this unique school is to provide a model of exemplary academic and organizational practice that teachers, administrators and parents can learn from and participate in, so that the benefits of the school's work radiates beyond its confines."
School organizers will draw on eight years of successful work by the University's Center for School Improvement, which has been working with seven elementary schools to improve their performance. Those seven schools will be part of the network that will send teachers to the charter school.
The new school will emphasize literacy instruction for students with a wide range of abilities. It will provide a challenging atmosphere in other subjects as well and is intended to show how a school can successfully meet the challenges of school reform, Bryk said.
"Work in each subject area will emphasize the arts. We will also take advantage of computers to provide additional student opportunities," Bryk added. "The school will be part of a caring community in which students, teachers and parents alike demonstrate responsibility for themselves and respect and caring for others."
The school will base its instruction on successful practices used by teachers in the public schools working with the center. Those schools are Cameron Elementary School, 1234 N. Monticello Ave.; Donaghue Elementary School, 707 E. 37th St.; Fernwood Elementary School, 10041 S. Union Ave.; Holmes Elementary School, 955 W. Garfield Boulevard; Park Manor Elementary School, 7073 S. Rhodes Ave.; Sawyer Elementary School, 5248 S. Sawyer Ave.; and Philip Sheridan Elementary School, 9000 S. Exchange Ave.
Marvin Hoffman, who will be co-teacher leader at the charter school, said that the institution will draw on the many resources available at the University and in nearby South Side neighborhoods.
"The South Side is rich in cultural institutions and organizations, such as the DuSable Museum, the Smart Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Oriental Institute and Court Theatre, many of which already have experience in integrating their resources and expertise with the needs of schools, and we intend to pursue vigorously links with them," he added. Students from the University of Chicago will also serve as volunteer tutors at the school, Hoffman said.
Representatives of the charter school initiative and local community leaders have been meeting to work on plans for the new school. The school will have a board of directors made up of University administrators, representatives of the Center for School Improvement and the community.
Fourth Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, in whose ward the school will be located, said, "I am excited about the prospect of having another quality public school in North Kenwood. Good schools are vital to community revitalization."
The school will have a School Development/Design Team made up of specialists in education. Once established, the school will have a Parent/Community Advisory Team, consisting of representatives of the school community who will work with the school to develop a permanent governing structure.
Principals of the seven schools who have been involved with the Center for School Improvement praised the new effort. They commended the center for working with teachers and administrators to train teachers to be literacy coordinators and for working with individual schools on staff development plans. The principals also praised the center for encouraging increased parent participation.
"If the quality of service we have received from the Center for School Improvement is any indication of the educational program that will be exhibited in the charter school, then the city of Chicago should prepare for a program which will set the trends in enlightened education for the coming decade," said Margaret Tolson, Principal of Donoghue School.