Ray chasing top tier status

Staff Writer

The Ray Elementary School “State of the School” address took place last Thursday. The school’s ranking, budget and extra-curricular programs were top discussion points during the meeting.

The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) longer school day mandate, readjustment of the school year due to the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike and the loss of its Autonomous Management Program Schools (AMPS) privileges due to the common core curriculum has made arranging the school year a challenging one for Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave.

CPS recently released progress reports on all of its schools. Ray’s progress report, based on the school’s activities during the 2011-2012 school year, revealed that Ray declined from Tier 1 high-level status to Tier 2 mid-level status. Tatia Beckwith, principal at Ray, said stagnant test scores and attendance were the two main reasons for the drop in tiers.

In response, Beckwith assigned a select group of teachers to serve as “interveners.” The teachers surveyed the school to identify practices that would help the school regain its Tier 1 status.

Getting students to school on time every school day, making sure they participate in the school’s morning fitness classes and encouraging and supporting their academic endeavors are ways that Beckwith said parents can help the school meet its goals.

At its local school council (LSC) meeting Thursday, Jan. 10, the LSC voted to spend $60,000 from the school’s discretionary budget to cover the cost of the Ray University program, leaving about $20,000. Ray University is a 45-minute period each day when students take part in enrichment activities in performing arts, literature, visual arts and civics. The school implemented the program to fill the CPS-mandated extended school day with arts enrichment activities. Community partners such as Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble, Hyde Park Art Center, We Got Game, and Hyde Park Suzuki Institute will deliver the curriculum.

Tatia Beckwith, principal at Ray, said the school had to scale back its Latin curriculum for the school year based on CPS contract policy. Due to enforcement of the policy, Latin language and culture, one of the school’s most celebrated programs, hangs in limbo as administrators search for a tailored fit.

Sasha Schmidt, Latin teacher at Ray, is not a CPS-certified teacher so she is classified as a vendor. According to CPS policy, vendors cannot be paid more than $25,000 a year without approval from the Board of Education. Schmidt’s instruction has been scaled back from teaching 2nd through 6th graders to just 4th, 5th and 6th graders.
Schmidt said she misses the younger students.

“It was a joy to teach them because their minds were so open and ready to learn,” Schmidt said.

Included in Ray’s Latin curriculum are the Latin Gala, a theatrical fundraiser for the program and the Latin Olympics.
Schmidt said the Latin Olympics will still take place this year on April 20 but she is not sure about the Latin Gala.
“There will be a larger number of kids I teach each day,” Schmidt said. “ Some of them may just choose Latin to avoid taking Spanish. The gala takes a lot of work and planning and I may not be able to rely on the children who are not fully committed.”

Beckwith said she’s glad that those who started taking Latin in 2nd grade are able to continue studying the language this school year and that the school is “looking at how we want to address Latin next year.”