Anthony Chalmers set a straightforward goal for this school year. As a first-time principal of the latest addition to the Chicago Inter-national Charter Schools network—one of 22 schools opening under the watchful eyes of Rensaissance 2010—Chalmers wants students and teachers at the Avalon South Shore campus to have as smooth a year as possible.
“I’m keeping it basic,” he says. “I want to have a good first year with no major problems.”
This may not sound like much to ask for, but if the majority of the city’s public schools ran as trouble free all the time as Avalon South Shore did at the start of its opening day, the district would make a great leap forward.
The building was clean with freshly sanded wood floors and bright painted walls. Desks and chairs for teachers and students were new. So were the textbooks, and there were plenty of them. Every classroom was staffed by a teacher, presumably qualified, who either shared a teaching assistant with one other teacher, or had one of her own. Students showed up for school, on time, in uniform, many with parents or guardians who lingered to watch their children line up outside by classroom, meet their teachers and make their way into the building.
Do back-to-school scenes at regular neighborhood schools look like this? What would it take for every public school in Chicago to have all of the staff, supplies and equipment it needs when doors open for class?
As this school year gets off the ground, it’s tempting to imagine the possibilities, whether they push the bounds of reality or are grounded more firmly in what’s feasible for the country’s third-largest public school system. Still, it can’t hurt to indulge in a bit of wishful thinking, if for no better reason than starting off the new school year on a positive note.
What if teachers new on the job or otherwise uncertain of their capabilities had gifted mentors to guide them? What if unmotivated teachers had a change of heart and rededicated themselves to teaching?
What if kids who are not able to keep up in class had access to teachers or tutors with the wherewithal to help them catch up? What if every kid who needs eyeglasses got them and all kids were steered toward healthy eating habits and exercise?
What if parents who make a habit of telling teachers off channeled that energy into making sure their child’s homework gets done, and found ways to improve their own skills so they could help? What if those parents partnered with their children’s teachers to get results, or, if the teacher’s skills were lacking, tapped the expertise of some other educator who might make a difference?
What if every principal were truly a school leader? Someone who was able and agile enough to wear the many hats—educator, coach, inspirational speaker, facilities manager, to name a few—it takes to do a good job.
In the wake of mounting scandals at City Hall, what if Mayor Daley and Schools CEO Arne Duncan did not succumb to the pressure of putting a good face on bad news when honesty would serve the system better in the long run?
What if, miraculously, Gov. Rod Blagojevich set aside a campaign promise and, along with state lawmakers, figured out a way to fix school funding?
No one knows what the coming year holds for students at Avalon South Shore or other public schools, new and old. But are these impossible dreams? If you think so, then consider that you may be giving up on our kids, and our future.
ABOUT US I am thrilled to report that Catalyst Chicago Publisher Linda Lenz is the new president of the Education Writers Association, a professional organization for journalists with more than 700 members across the country. She will serve a one-year renewable term.