In choosing schools for intervention, the Board of Education looked at school environment as well as test scores, according to Chief Accountability Officer Philip Hansen.
The Academic Accountability Council recommended intervention for all 11 high schools with less than 15 percent of students scoring at or above national norms in reading. But the board said it lacked the resources to take on that many schools at once and went with five instead, Bowen, Collins, DuSable, Orr and South Shore.
Two of the five, DuSable in Grand Boulevard and Orr in Humboldt Park, have some of the worst test scores and dropout rates in the system and have made little progress since going on probation, being reconstituted and getting principals hand-picked by schools chief Paul Vallas. South Shore, which didn’t get a Vallas principal until earlier this year, is just barely ahead of them even though it is situated in a more middle class community.
Both Bowen, which had steadily rising test scores, and Collins got off probation in 1999 but saw their scores plunge in 2000. “Such serious decline was a red flag for us that something more must be needed,” Hansen says.
However, the board also subjectively measured school environments, he says. “In many of these schools, we saw a lot of conflict.”
That was evident in the testimony at the hearing on Collins: Teachers had worn black arm bands to school to protest the local school council’s choice of a principal.
In South Shore, the Committee to Improve Education in South Shore, a 14-year-old group that has worked mainly with elementary schools, has long been frustrated with the leadership at the high school. Now it is listed an external partner, along with the business group Leadership for Quality Education.
Bowen has had no such problems. At a press conference, even School Board President Gery Chico acknowledged that it had made the strongest case against intervention of any of the five schools.
At first, the board announced that it would retain Principal Alejandra Alvarez, who was selected by Bowen’s local school council five years ago. However, after hearings in July, the board opted for new leadership at all five intervention schools, Bowen included. “It’s no reflection on the principal, but this is something the board decided should be done— to make a clean sweep, and replace all five principals,” says Cozette Buckney, the board’s chief education officer.