Mayor Richard M. Daley rang the ceremonial bell today to welcome children back to school after the winter break and praised students, parents, teachers and administrators along with many other partners for the hard work that has resulted in steady progress year-to-year by the students.
“If we are to build a stronger Chicago and if every student is to be able to fulfill their potential in life, we must continue to improve each and every school in Chicago,” Daley said at the ribbon-cutting for the new Mariano Azuela Elementary School
, 4707 W. Marquette Rd., which opened last July.
The Mayor also announced that in 2010, a total of 310 Chicago Public Schools teachers achieved certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards – the highest professional credential a classroom teacher can attain.
Daley said that over fifteen years ago he accepted responsibility for Chicago's public schools because he understood the necessity of turning around a public school system that had failed students and taxpayers for decades.
“Like so many Chicagoans, I wanted Chicago to lead the way on behalf of our young people. And, I wanted the nation's and the world's businesses to know that we're serious about bringing the best industries and creating good jobs in our city,” he said.
He said Chicago’s young people have made steady progress year-to-year. For example:
- In 2010, CPS students meeting or exceeding state standards reached 71.7 percent, up from 41.1 in 2002. The graduation rate reached an 11-year high and drop-out rate reached an 11-year low.
- In 2009, more than 10,000 CPS graduates went on to college, an all-time high.
- The CPS college enrollment rate now stands at 54.4 percent, up from 52.5 percent in 2008.
- In the past year, CPS has begun pilot programs to lengthen the school day and now almost 25 percent of total enrollment attends “Track E” or year-round schools.
Daley said the CPS must continue to pay special attention to improving the City’s neighborhood elementary schools, as exemplified by the new Azuela Elementary School and the new “Park 484” located next door to the school.
This Azuela building is built to serve 900 students, ranging from Pre-Kindergarten through 8th Grade.
It includes science, computer, music, and art classrooms, in addition to library, gymnasium, and dining facilities. And it has a combination green and reflective roof to combat the urban heat island effect and save energy.
Importantly, the building is designed to be used by the community in the evenings and on weekends. Already, the school boasts before and after school programs and Saturday enrichment programs, and the recent “literacy night” and winter assembly have drawn large crowds.
Daley said Azuela is one of five new school buildings opened this school year as part of the Modern Schools Across Chicago program, which is supported entirely with city funds. Its construction was supervised by the Public Building Commission of Chicago.
Eleven new schools have opened under this program in the last two years. Altogether, CPS has opened 46 new school buildings since 1995.
The new park adjacent to the school property is nine acres and has five ball fields with backstops, dugouts and bleachers, an arboretum, a concession stand, a walking path, a picnic area and ornamental fencing and landscaping.
“Together, they provide a great new anchor in the West Lawn community,” the Mayor said.
“When you open a new school, you give students and staff a new start in a state-of-the art environment. Our goal is to make every neighborhood school a high-quality school that a parent wants to send their child to because it offers our students a great opportunity for a solid education,” he said.
Daley said one of the most important components in any school is the classroom teacher.
“To take our schools to the next level of accomplishment, we must do what's needed to improve learning in the classroom, starting with creating an even better pool of teachers across Chicago,” he said.
The 310 teachers newly-certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards brings to 1,804 the number of CPS teachers who have earned the credential.
Chicago continues to be the fastest-growing urban school system in the nation in this regard. Just ten years ago, CPS had 11 teachers with this certification.
“I want to congratulate the newly-certified teachers for their hard work and commitment to our children. What they have achieved is truly special,” Daley said.
He thanked The Chicago Public Education Fund, which has raised millions of dollars over the years to improve teacher quality by helping Chicago Public School teachers get National Board Certification.
“Announcements like the ones we’re making today show that when all of students, teachers, parents and our partners work together, we can continue to build a school system that is stronger, more focused and more determined than ever to graduate students prepared to succeed in life and help keep our city moving forward.”