May 13, 2010
Chicago Public Schools officials joined with partners, parents, teachers and students at Evergreen Academy Middle School today to celebrate the naming of Evergreen and two other CPS schools from the Cluster 4 Middle Grades Project (C4MGP) as Illinois Horizon “Schools to Watch” by the Association of Illinois Middle-Level Schools (AIMS) and the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform.
CPS Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman and Chief Education Officer Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins were on hand for the school-wide celebration. Among those joining the CPS officials were Terry Mazany, president and chief executive officer of The Chicago Community Trust; Gudelia Lopez, senior program officer at CCT; Peter Mich, executive director, the McDougal Family Foundation; and Gary Weilbacher, co-director of Illinois Horizons Schools to Watch.
Together with Evergreen, 3537 S. Paulina, Principal Marian Strok, other schools receiving the designation this year are Arthur A. Libby Elementary & Middle School, 5300 S. Loomis, Principal Kurt Jones; and Little Village Academy, 2620 S. Lawndale, Principal Elsa Carmona.
These three schools will join Thurgood Marshall Middle School, 3900 N. Lawndale, as Schools to Watch within CPS.
Schools to Watch is a nationally recognized, state-operated model school identification and school improvement program that focuses on students in grades 5-8. The program was developed by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. Illinois is one of 18 states across the nation to participate in the Schools to Watch program. Currently, only 16 schools in the state of Illinois have Schools to Watch designation. The C4MGP has produced the only CPS elementary K-8 schools to receive this designation.
“That three C4MGP schools could achieve this designation is a great recognition of our middle school initiative,” Huberman said. “This was not an easy task as school communities had to buy into specialization, departmentalization, advisory, algebra, scheduling, teaming, exploratory and professional development.”
The CPS Cluster 4 Middle Grades Project was launched in 2006 by Dr. Eason-Watkins through grants from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust and The McDougal Family Foundation. The project targeted select schools for improvements in middle grades education.
As a part of a larger group of schools, Evergreen, Little Village and Libby worked with C4MGP project manager Gina L. Grant and leadership specialists Marietta Skyles Beverly and Rosa Haydee Ramirez to transform and develop an exemplary middle school in their K-8 schools and to refocus existing middle schools on the tenets of middle grades best practices.
“This initiative is a first in terms of support for the middle grades. Developing leadership teams in each of our schools that focus on middle level best practices, team-building and connecting with each student have been crucial to the successes of this project,” Eason-Watkins said.
Each school will receive recognition at a special school ceremony and at the National Forum Schools to Watch Conference in Washington, D.C. in June.
“These schools have accomplished much in the four years of the project. Middle grade teachers have taken advanced math and science courses leading toward middle grades endorsements and worked with university coaches to strengthen instruction in math and science. In addition, schools have improved how they support adolescents’ learning. The staffs and school leaders of these schools, along with the Cluster 4 staff, should feel proud of all that has been accomplished and of receiving this recognition,” said Lopez, of The Chicago Community Trust.
To achieve Schools to Watch designation, a middle school must demonstrate that it has met the following criteria:
- It is academically excellent and challenges all students.
- It is developmentally responsive and sensitive to the unique developmental challenges of early adolescents.
- The school is socially equitable, democratic and fair, providing all students with high-quality teachers, resources and supports.
- The school has norms, structures and organizational arrangements to support and sustain its path toward excellence.
“Schools to Watch supports the belief that a specialized approach is needed for middle school students,” said Grant, the school district’s C4MGP manager, noting that the goal behind the middle school program is to effectively prepare students to stay in school, transition to high school and, and ultimately, be college and career ready.
The process to receive the designation is rigorous. Schools must complete a self-evaluation and fill out a detailed application. Trained state visitation teams visit applicant schools to look for evidence of the criteria in action. Teams choose only schools that meet the performance criteria and demonstrate results.
The teams that visited the schools noted the following:
- At Evergreen: “Evergreen staff has implemented a number of sound instructional strategies. Classroom observations revealed consistent instances of teachers using cooperative learning, hands-on learning, numerous projects at the eighth grade level that connected disciplines … The team was particularly impressed with the activities that focused on group problem-solving and moral dilemmas … It appears that Evergreen has a strong leadership team that is able to create a unified vision and mission.”
- At Libby: “Any visitor to Libby would observe its commitment to guide all students to personal and academic success. It surrounds its young adolescents with a uniquely nurturing and developmentally appropriate learning environment and has much to share with other middle-level educators … Libby’s high-performing autonomous teams force meaningful team-building activities, integrated instruction and high-interest programs … Students are known and recognized and thus unable to ‘slip through the cracks’ that all to often engulf young adolescents.”
- At Little Village: “A climate of mutual respect between students and students, students and teachers, and administration and teachers seems to be a key component of life at Little Village. … The environment of respect is epitomized by instructional strategies that are hallmarks of middle-level practices. We saw cooperative groups in every classroom we visited – lab work and group problem solving in science; applying systems of equations to real-life scenarios in algebra; book groups in language arts; and using democratic processes in social sciences while creating a ‘classroom bill of rights’ to address student behavioral issues.”
The National Forum was launched in 1997 amid falling test scores, increasing reports of school violence and debates over the nature and purpose of middle-grades education. It has been relentless in ferreting out and rewarding schools that have exemplified success in educating middle grades students.
Chicago Public Schools serves 417,855 students in 675 schools. It is the nation’s third-largest school district.