Schools get $10M from Gates

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • January 31, 2008 @ 5:20 PM
For the second time in two weeks, Chicago Public Schools received a multi-million dollar grant to help reform the city's education system.

The Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), which manages CPS’ “turnaround” schools and runs a teaching academy specifically for teaching positions in the inner city, announced it had secured an additional $10.3 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Two weeks ago,  Chicago Community Trust granted $50 million in funds for literacy and teaching programs over a five-year period. The Gates Foundation funding, which now totals $90 million, covers the next three years.

The announcement came at the Sherman School for Excellence, which is in the second year of a turnaround project managed by AUSL and has already seen improvements in student scores and attendance. It is being held up as a model by CPS officials for turnaround schools yet to come.

“This stuff does not happen everywhere,“ said Steve Seleznow, education program director for the Gates Foundation. “We find it easy to come to Chicago bearing gifts.“

So, if you’re wondering what will become of the Orr High School campus and its two feeder elementary schools on the city’s Northwest side next fall, a peek to Chicago’s South Side will provide a potential answer. In less than two years, CPS officials say Sherman has been transformed from one of the city‘s most troubled elementary schools.

City officials made sure it shone today. An hour before Mayor Richard M. Daley and other city and school dignitaries arrived, sanitation trucks and workers battled wind-driven snow to literally clean up the streets around the school at 52nd and South Morgan.

When Daly arrived, a group of Sherman sixth-graders greeted him and others at the door with smiles.

"Welcome to Sherman!" a boy proclaimed.

Sherman PTA President Rickey D. Fields, a single-parent father of two sons, spoke of a day when there was no PTA at Sherman and the insides of the building were not dirty.

"I've seen a complete turnaround," he said. "I can see students who are unfearful of coming to school."

Lionel Allen Jr., principal of Sherman, likened the school reform movement to the civil rights marches of the 1960s.

"No child should be denied a quality education because of his or her zip code," he said, praising Daley and the AUSL for their efforts.

In two weeks, CPS has announced grants promising $60 million over the next five years, including $50 million from the Chicago Community Trust. The Gates Foundation money covers the next three years, on top of the approximate $80 million it previously donated to AUSL.

"This stuff does not happen everywhere," said Steve Seleznow, education program director for the Gates Foundation. "We find it easy to come to Chicago bearing gifts."

Daley asked each of those Sherman sixth-graders which high school they wanted to attend, and the fact they could rattle off Kenwood Academy and other schools by name made Daley proud.

"This would have never happened a number of years ago," said Daley, whose Renaissance 2010 project is cited for improving some schools but creating controversy at others.

Last week, CPS announced it planned to remake eight underperforming schools as 'turnaround' schools, costing hundreds of teachers and administrators their jobs.

And that's where the Gates Foundation funding will come into play. AUSL will use the money to transform three CPS high schools "over the next several years" and to expand its teacher residency program.

The first of those high schools, pending approval from the CPS board at its Feb. 27 meeting, would be Orr, at 730 N. Pulaski. The Orr campus currently has three high schools: EXCEL-Orr Academy, Applied Arts Science and Technology Academy, and Mose Vines High School, totaling 1,411 students. The proposal would combine all of that into one high school and AUSL would completely replace the staff.

AUSL would also do the same to Orr's two feeder elementary schools, Howe and Morton Career Academy.

"The (turnaround) schools are extraordinary because they've been hand-picked." said Martin J. Koldyke, founder and chairman of AUSL. "We are very serious about this endeavor. We will succeed."

A public hearing for the Orr changes is scheduled for 3 p.m. Feb. 7 at the CPS Central Office, 125 S. Clark St. But administrators are already preparing for the Orr closing, said CPS head Arne Duncan, because of the amount of work to be done before it reopens as a new school three months later.

AUSL already manages eight schools and academies, in partnership with CPS, including the first-year National Teacher's Academy. Many of the teachers for Orr or other project schools are likely to come from that academy, unified as a group.

Teachers who are accepted into the AUSL residency program are trained at CPS schools, are assigned to mentor teachers, work toward a Master's degree and receive a training salary of $32,000. With that, teachers agree to a five-year commitment to teach in an underperforming CPS school. To date, AUSL has trained nearly 250 teachers.

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