Private schools make progress in 2014

University of Chicago Laboratory School 5800 S. Stony Island Ave.
University of Chicago Laboratory School 5800 S. Stony Island Ave.

Staff Writer


The Ancona School began offering new Montessori programs for its pre-primary students in August. The programs included a longer day and dual-language instruction.

Parents of 3- to 6-year-olds had the option to choose between the half day, all day and all year programs at Ancona, 4770 S. Dorchester Ave. The school’s half-day program, which was already in operation, runs from about 8 a.m. to noon for 3- to 4-year-olds and until 3 p.m. for kindergarten students. The school’s all day program started with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. then classes at 8 a.m. the students could go home at 3 p.m. or stay until 5:45 p.m. and the new all year program offers families 11-and-a-half months of school.

In 2014, Ancona also selected Ari Frede as its new head of school. Frede, who officially started in September, will serve part time as head-of-school-elect alongside the school’s current head Bonnie Wishne, until she retires in 2015.

The Chicago Free School

Earlier this year Lauren Beitler, graduate of the University of Chicago Urban Education Initiative program, returned to Chicago with a plan to introduce the Hyde Park neighborhood to the Free School model. Free Schools are private, have no principal and everything is decided by a community consensus that includes the students.

After hosting several inquiry sessions about the Free School, Beitler had enough families interested to move forward with fundraising and starting the school. In addition to seeking out interested families, Beitler was also searching for a space.
In August she announced that the school’s new location would be Augustana Lutheran Church of Hyde Park, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave. Permits and building expenses shuffled plans, though, and the school ended up at the the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5480 S. Kenwood Ave.

Lucinda Ali Landing, founder of The Hyde Park Suzuki Institute, a longstanding music program that was going to be displaced by the move of the school into Augustana, said the institute is currently in negotiation with Augustana’s new leadership to determine if its month-to-month lease agreement can become a more “standard, permanent” lease agreement.

Some neighbors speculate that a change in leadership is what led to the change in plans for the church’s space. Interim pastor Julie Ryan succeeded Stephanie Jaeger, who resigned from her role as pastor of Augustana.

Before the offer to remain at Augustana, Ali Landing and her board members were still searching for a new location in Hyde Park that would be suitable to the needs of her music students.

“We found lots of beautiful spaces in Hyde Park. The problem was going to be being able to afford the space,” said Ali Landing, who said plans to share space with the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), 1407 E. 60th St. did not work out.
Beitler said the Free School’s after-school programs will remain at Augustana.

St. Thomas the Apostle Elementary School

St. Thomas the Apostle Elementary School held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of its new science lab in October. This is the first upgrade the science lab has had in more than 80 years.

Through the school’s Race for Education fundraiser and a donation from an anonymous benefactor, St. Thomas, 5467 S. Woodlawn Ave., was able to renovate its technology lab. Upgrades include new lab tables, chairs, Chrome books and an interactive white board.

The school’s lab had huge black tables, years of stuff in the cabinets, poor lighting, weak air conditioning and one faucet with running water and no drain and another with a drain but no running water. Now the desks have sliding doors for students to store their books from other classes, more lighting, central air, two fully functioning faucets and shades to cover the beaming sun that used to shine trough the windows.

There is also a Smart Board, interactive computers, iPads and tablets and Foss Science Kits, which are prepackaged kits for science experiments.

University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

Paul Horton, history teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, was one of six recipients of the Upton Sinclair Award for service to the field of education this year.

Each year Education News and the Haberman Educational Foundation give the award to recognize leaders in education who exemplify Upton Sinclairs’ integrity and contribute the best of the best in their fields. The awards selection committee stated that it chose Horton because he has assumed a good deal of advocacy and leadership regarding educational concerns.
Horton, who teaches 10th to 12th grades at Lab, 1362 E. 59th St., has written 30 published articles about national education issues in 2013. His commentaries on have appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Sun-Times, Education Week, Education News, Diane Ravitch’s Blog and the Daily Kos.
Horton, who has been a teacher for about 31 years, shares this honor with past recipients including E.D. Hirsch, Jay Mathews, Diane Ravitch, Tavis Smiley, Susan Ohanian and Queen Rania of Jordan.

In March, The George Lucas Family Foundation donated $25 million toward the completion of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools’ new arts hall. The unprecedented donation culminates the school’s Lab+ Campaign, which has exceeded the school’s fundraising goal.

Renowned filmmaker Lucas, president of the foundation, and his wife Melody Hobson, president and chairwoman of the board of directors at Ariel Investments and chairwoman of the board of directors for DreamWorks Animation, have requested that the hall be named in honor of photographer, filmmaker and social justice advocate Gordon Parks.

Hobson said it is important to she and Lucas that the University of Chicago campus have a building named for an African American, “given the diverse community in which it sits, and the outstanding contributions to our society by people of color.”
Gordon Parks Arts Hall, which is set to open in 2015, will provide spaces for the arts that match the talent of the students and faculty who will use them. The building will support programs in theater, music, and the visual arts with three new performance halls, studios, rehearsal and practice rooms, a digital media lab, and more.

The foundation’s grant is the largest in Lab school’s history, said David Magill, director of the schools. He said the Lab+ Campaign, which has raised $80 million in support of the school has surpassed its original $40 million goal.

In October, The University of Chicago Laboratory High School’s student paper “U-High Midway” received the All American rating from the National Scholastic Press Association. This is the 49th consecutive year the student paper received the honor.
National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) is a nonprofit membership organization exclusively for high school and other secondary school publications that offers its members resources to help their publications improve, including national high school journalism conventions, contests and scholarships and publication critique services.

Hales Franciscan

Rising out of a year of tumultuous scandal, Hales Franciscan High School started its new school year with a new principal, Nichole Jackson.

Hales, 4930 S. Cottage Gove Ave., after 50 years as the only African-American, all-male, Catholic college preparatory high school in the state of Illinois opened its enrollment to girls for the first time during the 2013-2014 school year. By the end of the school year, Hales was under investigation due to sexually explicit images of one of its female students being passed around to other students by text message. Several faculty and administrative changes were made as a result and handling of the incident.

The academic side of the school has been completely revamped. Jackson said having a small staff made the transition easier. The school returned to a liberal arts curriculum, which includes four years of math, science, social science, P.E. and Health.
Hales Franciscan High School partnered with the Chicago Wisdom Project to create an urban food forest and outdoor learning space on the school’s campus.

Theodore Richards, founder of the Chicago Wisdom Project, said the non-profit program offers holistic programming to get youth outside to do hands-on projects and offers nature-based learning to get people reconnected to where food comes from.
The food forest at Hales consists of trees and plant beds that will grow walnuts, peaches, plums and apples. The community space includes a stage, benches and a fire pit.

The Chicago Wisdom Project, which has been a partner with Hales for about a year, works with schools and youth programs all over the South Side. In addition to creating farms and food forests the program also offers wilderness retreats and other projects that connect kids with nature and agriculture.