Local schools gird for changes

Staff Writer

Changes are underway for Ray, Bret Harte and Shoesmith elementary schools as they prepare for the phase out of Canter Middle School.

Earlier in this school year, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced that Canter Middle School, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., was on its school closing list for underutilization. After several hearings, the school board voted to phase out the school, allowing the school’s current 7th graders to complete 8th grade before officially closing the school.

Canter Principal Colleen Conlan said the news is bittersweet.

“We appreciate how the community, parents and teachers rallied around us during this time,” Conlan said. “It’s very sad that we will lose the school after next year but this extra year is great for the current students.”

Conlan said parents have been officially notified about the board’s decision and she is meeting with CPS officials to get more details about the school’s transition.

Conlan said “We anticipate losing some staff — sheer numbers — but we are going to try to keep the program as consistent as possible.”

About 10 years ago, several neighborhood elementary schools, including Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave.; Bret Harte, 1556 E. 56th St.; and Shoesmith, 1330 E. 50th St., reduced its grade offerings from K-8 to K-6 in order to launch Canter as the neighborhood’s middle school. Now Ray is adding 7th grade; Bret Harte is adding 7th and 8th grades and Shoesmith students, who usually make up the majority of Canter’s population, will have to travel about eight blocks south to attend one of the two receiving schools.
At her second meet and greet, new Ray Interim Principal Toni Hill spoke to parents and community members about the school’s plans to add 7th grade next year.

“We will grow one grade at a time,” Hill said.

She said since the original plan was to welcome students from Canter there was no talk about Shoesmith so the school is now working on a new transition plan.

Although Canter is not closing, Ray and Bret Harte will receive the same funding and upgrades CPS planned to give welcoming schools.

They are slated to get air conditioning and tuck-pointing. Hill has also requested upgrades in technology such as a library media lab and every classroom is getting whiteboards.

Several parents mentioned that with the growing school population the school is way overdue for plumbing upgrades.

CPS will start working on the upgrades in June and all the work will be complete by Aug. 12. Due to the upgrades there will be no summer school or summer school or activities at Ray.

Hill said curriculum and culture would be two of the main issues addressed on the onset of this transition.

She said Ray is looking at middle school models such as academic centers at Kenwood, Limbloom and Whitney Young. She said the students will switch classrooms to study different subjects but she doesn’t want any of them to fall through the cracks.

“They need an anchor and we want it to be someone in addition to the homeroom teacher,” Hill said. “We want a pod, a team of teachers to work with each student.”

Implementation of “The Leader in me” or “CHAMPS” program is being considered for the school.

Hill said current Ray teachers have already spoken to her about their requests to teach upper grades or stay where they are.
In order to teach the upper grades, teachers have to have middle school endorsements. A few of the teachers have social studies and language middle school endorsements but none of them have math and science. Hill said Ray was in talks with teachers from Canter, including the late Paul Goldsmith, a Canter math teacher who unexpectedly died of a heart attack last week.
“We were ready to receive Canter’s tenured teachers but now that they are not closing, teachers will have to apply for teaching positions at Ray,” Hill said.

Ideas such as creating a pre-algebra bridge program with Kenwood Academy High School’s Academic Center were discussed during the meeting.

Hill said when it comes to establishing rules and discipline with incoming students, “we have to set house rules first and then when we merge the 7th graders in we will let them know.”

She said Ray is looking into implementing a peer jury and after-school programs for 4th through 7th graders and this summer teachers will receive “Calm Classroom” program training.

Darryl Williams, chairman of the local school council at Bret Harte, said the school would be adding both 7th and 8th grades next year.

He said although it’s an uncomfortable situation, the school plans to make the best of it.

“Having K to 8 worked for us in the past. It wasn’t flourishing but we’ve done it before,” said Williams.

He said even though Canter will remain open for 8th grade, Bret Harte wanted to make their 8th grade option available next school year in case no outside students are allowed to enroll into Canter.

Williams said Bret Harte’s transition committee, which is made up of three parents, three teachers and the principal, is working with CPS to create the curriculum and welcoming make new students and help teachers and parents deal with having bigger kids in the building.

He said where the students will be placed in the building and other amenities for the incoming middle school students will be determined, “once we learn more about the new budget format and get a better idea about the number of students we will receive.”
The new CPS budget format includes giving schools a set amount of money per student for core instruction, rather than allocating a certain number of positions based on enrollment. This plan gives principals more flexibility in the number of new teachers they can hire.

Giving iPads to the 7th and 8th graders, pre algebra courses, following the common core curriculum are some of the plans in preparation for the middle school.

Williams said the middle school model of switching classrooms to learn different subjects will not be a major adjustment for the school.

“Our 4th, 5th and 6th graders currently switch classrooms for different school subjects so 7th and 8th graders will do the same,” Williams said.