By TONIA HILL
On a warm September day, Bret Harte Elementary School Interim Principal, Charlie Bright takes a walk through the halls of the school with walls that will soon be filled with art projects, class and homework assignments of students as the school year progresses.
It is week two of the 2017-2018, school year and the first year that Bright will be leading the school.
While it is first year serving in the role as principal he is no stranger to Bret Harte Elementary School, 1556 E. 56th St.Two years ago, Bright was the resident principal at Bret Harte as a part of the New Leaders Program. He worked alongside former Bret Harte Principal Shenethe Parks, who served in the role for 10 years and recently accepted a new position within Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
Last year, Bright was the assistant principal at Mahalia Jackson Elementary School, 917 W. 88th St.
As Interim Principal Bright is not under contract for the position. In the next few months, the Bret Harte Local School Council (LSC) will start a selection process for candidates for principal.
The LSC will ultimately make the final decision, which could come before the end of the school year.
“We can create a larger committee we welcome parents and community members to the selection committee,” said Elizabeth Herring, a member of the Bret Harte LSC. “We will go through the process this year.”
Bright said, “I’m hoping that a decision is made sometime early next year and that I’m the person they choose.”
In the meantime Bright said he hopes to have a smooth transition into his role as principal.
“The school was in good shape before I came,” Bright said. “I have a wonderful staff and teachers. The parents and students they greet me every day and a lot of them are glad to see a familiar face. I think it helps that I built relationships as a resident principal.”
Over the next few weeks Bright will visit classes of all grade levels to encourage students, reiterate expectations from teachers and the administration and let them know that his door is always open.
“I wanted to let you know that I believe in every one of you,” Bright said to both an energetic and attentive second-grade class. “I believe that through hard work you can do anything you want, you can have your best year ever.”
This year he is working to implement a few new programs for students and parents.
“He’s a positive person and brings positive energy to the school,” Herring said.
For example, the school will be a part of a campaign spearheaded by ESPN and Major League Baseball (MLB). The campaign is a bullying prevention initiative called Shred Harte that aims to combat bullying in schools and help youth choose kindness.
No Bully, a nonprofit will work directly with Bret Harte and others schools across the country this school year through the Shred Hate program.
The program will provide, “training for teachers and administrators and develop clear systems and protocols for addressing instances of bullying,” Bright said.
Parents will also be involved with the program through workshops.
The program would begin next semester.
“We have a science club that we’re starting with the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI),” Bright said.
Teachers at Bret Harte through the free science club will receive training from MSI. They will be given materials and information to run science experiments that they will present to students.
“The students get to go back to the museum and will perform their experiments in front of their families,” Bright said. “We’re excited about partnering with the museum. One of the many things that I love about Hyde Park is there are so many opportunities.”
Bright also mentioned that he wanted to launch a debate and language club.
Bret Harte also works alongside University of Chicago’s, Neighborhood School Program, which sends students to conduct afterschool classes and programming with Bret Harte students and other area schools.
University of Chicago High School lab students also volunteer at Bret Harte.
Bret Harte and the CPS budget deficit
The Chicago Board of Education in August approved a $5.7 billion budget, assuming that state lawmakers would enact the education reform bill and that the district will receive additional funds from local resources to plug holes.
The Illinois legislature, last month, has passed an education funding Senate Bill 1947 (SB 1947) altering the way the state allocates monies to school districts statewide.
SB 1947 will use an evidence-based model to define an adequate level of school funding for each district and a formula for distributing state funds to districts.
Another component of the bill is a tax credit scholarship program for private schools.
“Under this model [education reform bill], 268 districts would receive more money per pupil than Chicago. CPS would receive $300 million in additional funding in FY18,” CPS said in a previous article in the Herald.
The district is also assuming that it will receive “an additional $269 million in local resources to address its remaining budget gap, and is working with the City of Chicago to identify potential sources,” CPS said in a previous article in the Herald.
CPS announced 956 layoffs ahead of the start of this school year.
About 356 teachers and 600 support staff members were impacted by the layoffs.
“We lost about $125,000 that was reduced from last year’s budget it caused us to close two positions, which led to one teacher layoff,” Bright said in a previous article in the Herald. “We were able to move one of our assistants to a new position, so we were able to save a job.”
Bret Harte initially received $2,443,323 a little over $100,000 less than it did previously.
Following 10th -day enrollment numbers, released last month, the current budget sits at $2,384,327. CPS projects the difference between this year and last year to be $8,894.
Though the school lost a teaching position, Bright said the school budget is stretched too thin to hire another teacher.
This fiscal year the district said it would receive $2.281 billion, a reduction of $43 million. Last fiscal year, the district received $2.324 billion.
The reduction in monies for the budget, according to CPS, comes from the projected decline in enrollment. Additionally, CPS said it expects to see a decrease in federal dollars.
The district will spend more to educate students this school year.
Per pupil spending for next year will increase to $4,290, up five percent from the $4,087 rate at the beginning of the previous school year.
CPS also expects a population decline of about 8,000 students this school year.
Solstice Construction and Bret Harte
The Studio Gang-designed Solstice, 1634 E. 56th St., is a few steps away from Bret Harte, 1634 E. 56th St.
MAC Properties is the developer for the 26-story building. Construction began last year, and the first tenants of the 250-unit building are expected to move in by late spring of 2018.
There were concerns from parents, and LSC members about safety as construction continues with the project.
“They [in the past] built our playgrounds and extended our parking lot,” Bright said. “I consider them [MAC Properties] to be good partners. They respond to calls instantly and offered parking spaces to our teachers to alleviate some of our parking problems.”
“Solstice offered six parking spaces for Bret Harte teachers in the solstice parking lot,” said Peter Cassel, the director of community development for MAC Properties.
Cassel added that a meeting space in the Solstice would also be available for use to Bret Harte when the project is complete.
“We think Bret Harte is one of the very best elementary schools in Hyde Park,” Cassel said. “We are pleased to be apart of the broad community support for Bret Harte.”
The relationship between MAC Properties and Bret Harte goes as far back as 2005, according to Cassel. “We look forward to continuing that relationship with Principal Bright.”
MAC Properties has supported the school’s mosaic project at the underpass at the Lakefront and has donated funds for the eighth grade’s class trip to Washington, D.C.