City schools to get $50 million

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • January 17, 2008 @ 5:31 PM
In a room full of school teachers and principals, city officials and a couple of nervous but charming third-graders this afternoon at Rachel Carson Elementary, The Chicago Community Trust pledged an additional $50 million over the next five years to Chicago schools.

That money comes on top of $55 million donated by Chicago Community Trust for its education initiative over the past five years, which school officials credit for substantial improvements in literacy, test scores and professional development for teachers.

"Elementary scores are at a record high," said Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. "Attendance rates are moving in the right direction. We're turning around troubled schools and working to get more students to go on to higher education or prepare for a job."

That work has just begun, Daley said.

"But even with the real progress that all of our students have made in the last 11 years, there's much more to be done. We don't accept the status quo. …," he said. "This is no time to wait and see. Our students can't wait and neither can the future of our city or our nation."

Terry Mazany, the trust's CEO, believes this to be an urban model for other cities around the nation to follow.

"This is the through line to Chicago's future," said Mazany.

It was not by coincidence that Thursday's announcement came inside the library on the second floor at Carson Elementary.

Surrounded by crowded one-lane, one-way roads near Gage Park on the South Side, Carson has more than 1,300 students in grades kindergarten through grade 8 in a low-income area. A majority of the students come from Hispanic families. The school's administrators and faculty have made literacy and learning the English language a top priority.

In the last six years, Carson's literacy rate has risen 25 percent, to 73 percent.

Javier Arriola-Lopez, the school's principal, was Carson's literacy lead teacher when the initiative began in 2002. Now, his faculty is being looked at to mentor other city schools.

"This is just a remarkable school," said Arne Duncan, CEO of Chicago Public Schools. "This school is truly a model for what we have to do around the city."

Carson Elementary students, assembled in orderly lines by teachers, looked down hallways and peeked around corners as the mayor's car pulled up on the corner of Maplewood and West 55th.

"They were excited," said Stephanie Mulder, a literacy intervention teacher who credited the CCT funds for financing her professional development.

Daley chatted with teachers and administrators, and posed for photographs. Later, as he spoke, Daley stared straight ahead toward the back of a room filled with Dr. Seuss and Clifford the Dog children's books.

Daley's biggest thrill, beyond the $50 million, of course, was probably when third-graders Jazmine Saavedra and Ivan Chagolla, barely tall enough to see over the podium, handed the mayor a gift bag, a "token of their appreciation."

The school district will use the trust's money to make grants to teachers and schools with programs to improve reading, science, math.

Other funding areas will include:

  • Preparation and development of school leaders;
  • Strengthening networks of innovative schools;
  • Supporting projects that create strong transitions from pre-school to elementary and from elementary to high school;
  • Supporting projects in suburban schools that face similar challenges as Chicago schools, and supporting private schools serving large numbers of minority and low-income students.
While the first five years of the education initiative spread the trust's money across 334 different grants at more than 250 schools, the focus will shift over the next five years to programs encompassing larger groups of schools.

Mazany told the Daily News that five years from now, there could be another level of funding, though he hopes so much will be accomplished by the year 2013 that the funding won't have to be so steep by then.

"We're in this for the long term," he said.

Daley challenged school administrators to become more efficient financially and to get more of that money into the classroom.

"Everyone involved in the education of our children need to know that even with many good steps we have taken in our public schools, we must do even more day by day on behalf of every student in every school here in Chicago," Daley said. "...This is no time to settle into a comfort level or a status quo. I don't want to lose the momentum that's kept our students' progress going for 11 years and that gave us double-digit increases in elementary test scores last year."

Daley suggested that schools open their doors on Saturdays.

"Either we move fast and create a better school system," Daley said, "or we'll leave behind a generation of young people unprepared for work or for life."

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.