First Printed August 2013
A few months ago, I watched that movie staring Morgan Freeman as Joe Louis Clark, a former high school principal in New Jersey. You may remember it: Lean on Me.
Principal Clark came to a failing high school and, for lack of better terminology, turned it around.
In the movie, he didn’t do so by firing every teacher in one swoop of his executive authority, nor did he bring in a management team from the proverbial central office to critique and criticize.
Principal Clark rejuvenated the building that was already there: the teachers, the staff, and ultimately, the students. He started by getting rid of the graffiti and repainting the lockers.
Yesterday, as I marched with protesters in the streets outside, Chicago Public Schools ditched their routine cataloguing of “probation” schools. Instead, schools will be tiered in five levels, with the bottom two tiers, 4 & 5 receiving forms of intervention. Chronic tier 5 schools may face disenfranchisement, or even closure.
I do not take umbrage with measures for accountability– but these measurements must be accurate.
Under the new system for High Schools, for example, standardized test scores still make up 40 percent of the rating. That amorphous grail known as school culture, measured by the 5Essentials Survey and other notifications like student attendance, only make up 15 percent of the rating system. Which brings me to Senn High School– a school that has been on probation for some years.
I have the privilege of being elected to and serving on Senn’s Local School Council.
Even while I have been able to vote for such great things like hiring additional staff to keep classroom sizes down, my proudest vote so far was to fund the opening of a new student led school store.
The store will sell Senn merchandise featuring a new, student-designed Senn logo, teach students invaluable business skills, and raise money for student activities. More than anything, it will build student culture.
I remember Senn five years ago. It was a school the neighborhood wished wasn’t there. Students did not feel safe there, nor did the community. The graffiti made it clear that gang activity was thriving. That has all changed.
The 5Essestials survey made a notable 9 point jump year-over-year in safety measurements. In fact, last year’s freshmen rated the school’s safety score with an even more impressive 20 point jump. The school features a welcoming environment, and that is only improving.
Recently, the Principal took me and other Local School Council members on a tour of the new science labs. They were fantastic and modern.
What impressed me, however, was what was outside the classroom: The freshly painted lockers. Students will feel at home walking the halls at Senn. They will feel safe. They will be able to learn.
That is something no CPS rating system has yet been able to measure.