By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Family and community members were invited to Kozminski Elementary School, where several students were given medals for their work at an honor roll ceremony last week. The ceremony was the realization of the goals of the school’s principal, Myron Hester, who a year ago endeavored to transform Kozminski into a school that has high expectations of its students, school pride and community involvement.
Hester said when he arrived at Kozminski, 936 E. 54th St., there was no stability.
“The kids were in control, there were no uniforms, no collaboration with the staff and no sense of family, belonging or high expectations,” Hester said.
Hester replaced former principal Lionel Bordelon, who was removed from his post as principal at Kozminski, 936 E. 54th St., in January 2012 following allegations of improper oversight and reporting mechanisms of corporal punishment, according to Chicago Public School (CPS) officials. According to CPS, the case against Bordelon is still pending in court.
“When I started here things fell apart year after year,” said Lauren Summerfield, who has been a teacher at Kozminski for five years. “There was no accountability for poor behavior. The kids would come in and do what they want. Police would come in, break up fights and sometimes take the kids away.”
The school was often closed to outside programs and community members and was rarely thought about or spoken of in the Hyde Park community. Michelle Brumfield, assistant principal at Kozminski, said the students would come in for the school day and once the final bell rang everyone rushed out of the building to go home.
Although Kozminski is a Level 3 school that is on academic probation its ISAT scores are on a slow but steady incline. Students meeting or exceeding state standards on the ISAT rose from 59.4 percent in 2010 to 60.3 percent in 2011 to 60.9 percent in 2012, according to CPS. Areas where the school is showing decline are reading, which went from 60.9 percent in 2010 to 61.6 percent in 2011 to 57.5 percent in 2012 and attendance 93.6 percent in 2010, 92.1 percent in 2011 and 92.8 percent in 2012. This combination has put Kozminski on the CPS list of considerations for schools closings based on underutilization of space.
Summerfield said one of the reasons the school struggled academically was due to No Child Left Behind (NCLB). She said kids who were removed from other schools due to low performance were moved to Kozminski.
“We were forced to take NCLB students and Ray and Murray [elementary schools] were not,” Lauren said. “Our high performing kids began to leave the school because their parents saw that all the low performing kids were coming in. Our high performing students began to go to Ray and Murray.”
Summerfield, who previously taught at a school that was closed due to under enrollment before coming to Kozminski, has spoken on behalf of keeping Kozminski open and letting Hester and his team of administrators continue to build up the school.
Hester said over the past year he and his staff have been working to put more structure in place. The students now wear uniforms, there is more staff collaboration and a dean of students has been added to the staff to enforce positive behavior interventions and provide consistency with consequences for bad behavior.
“With consistency their behavior has changed,” Hester said.
Brumfield said the school is now bustling with activity and the community has been welcomed back in for partnerships and programs that were closed out many years ago.
After-school programs such as basketball, cheerleading, track, art, and dance have been re-implemented. The school is also back in partnership with the University of Chicago’s afterschool tutoring program and has a Saturday ISAT Academy.
Summerfield said Hester and Brumfield have brought in new programs and have also allowed other administrators and teachers to write grants for programs and services.
“Mr. Hester is very accepting of new ideas and because of that there is more enrichment,” Summerfield said. “It’s like a black cloud has been lifted from over the school.”
With grants and partnerships with programs such as Chicago Cares, City Year and Target the school and its playground has been painted, there is a new school sign and a school garden and playroom were built.
The school also received enough funding to renovate its one out-dated computer lab and now has three fully functioning computer labs.
“More importantly morale has been lifted,” Summerfield said.
Brumfield said the students and the parents feel a better connection to the school.
“The students like to stay after school they feel it’s harder to leave,” said Brumfield, who said the students have been wearing their honor roll medals to school every day. “Parents who are former Kozminski students are feeling pride again.”
Hester has also opened the school up to more community meetings including a Hyde Park Kenwood Community Council Schools Committee networking event and the first community forum of the Hyde Park Community Area Residents Empowering Schools, an organization that is forming to advocate for keeping the neighborhood schools in Hyde Park open.