By Suzanne Doornbos Kerbow, program director for education at Polk Bros. Foundation
I’m fortunate to hear from district leaders, school leaders and nonprofits on a regular basis about the terrific work going on in Chicago public schools. I’m particularly proud that Polk Bros. Foundation directs its funding to benefit students in schools that need it most.
I’m impressed by efforts to ensure students in high-needs neighborhood schools are taught by skilled teachers. I’m confident that the in-depth, long-term, cohort-based professional learning opportunities teachers receive from Polk Bros. Foundation grantees is assisting them to engage their students in active, inquiry-based learning that ensures they gain content knowledge – especially in science, math and literacy. The district is working to attract proven teachers to these schools, and another grantee, New Teacher Center, is helping ensure those teachers remain long enough to develop long-term, supportive relationships with students and families.
We know that to do their best, teachers need deeply invested, collaborative principals and well-targeted curriculum. The Chicago Public Education Fund’s work to prepare and support great principals – from equipping assistant principals to step into a principal role to helping sitting principals to organize their schools for success – is outstanding. The district’s commitment to rolling out a new culturally-responsive universal curriculum will free teachers from having to create their own and better ensure children moving from school to school don’t fall behind. Teachers expressed a deep interest in this type of optional resource when surveyed by the district, and it has the potential to open up more time for teachers to meet the needs of students.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the dedicated nonprofits assisting CPS high school students to prepare for and succeed in college and work, and the path-breaking efforts of the Partnership for College Completion to engage university leaders and policymakers in closing the graduation gap for low-income students of color in Illinois.
I’m heartened that work by the district and Chicago’s nonprofit community to help students, teachers, and families deal with the devastating effects of trauma and violence is becoming more prevalent, as are efforts to make schools restorative places for students and families. Grantees Umoja Student Development Corporation, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and Enlace Chicago are making great strides in this space
I continue to believe in the power of full-service community schools to serve as hubs in their communities to address barriers to learning faced by children and youth most impacted by systemic inequities and to assist parents and communities to increase their support of children and youth. Full-service community schools offer families a myriad of programs and services, from counseling, tutoring, academic enrichment, soccer, theater, dance, clubs, and visits from medical providers, to opportunities to visit places in the city they’ve never explored. Programs offered for parents not only allow them to learn a new skill or tackle an important community issue, they also help them become comfortable in their child’s school so that it becomes their school, too.
I’m gratified that the three organizations involved in Polk Bros. Foundation’s Full-Service Community Schools Initiative from 1996 to 2000 – Youth Guidance, Logan Square Neighborhood Association and Metropolitan Family Services – are still partnering with schools to develop full-service community schools. You’ll want to read Michelle Adler Morrison’s recent Take 5 blog post to see why Youth Guidance is still invested in the model.
Having been a champion for full-service community schools for so long, I’m thrilled to see the model take root in the district in a bigger way and ecstatic that Mayor Lightfoot’s transition team recommended (see page 103) scaling full-service community schools.
The Network for College Success, a Polk Bros. Foundation grantee, has done a fantastic job helping high schools understand what they need to do to keep students on the path toward graduation and helped CPS increase its high school graduation rate. I’m excited about work getting under way at the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute that extends the Network’s model to help CPS middle grades teachers, administrators, and counselors use practical, actionable, real-time, school-level data to improve the grades, attendance, and high school selection of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. All three indicators have been shown to make a difference in how well middle grades students will do in high school. I see this new effort, called the Middle Grades Network, as furthering the reach of the strong early childhood education work happening in Chicago and as helping make easier the equally strong effort to prepare students for success in college.
And, honestly, what gives me the most hope for Chicago’s future is seeing the incredible work being led by our nonprofit partners across the city every day.