Successful school turnarounds offer glimpse of hope - FOX 32 News Chicago

Successful school turnarounds offer glimpse of hope

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

In the ten years that Chicago public schools has been taking "action" against low performing or low enrollment schools, it has almost always been a battle. People don't like change, teachers feel they're under attack, parents don't trust promises from the Board of Education, and security is an issue in many neighborhoods. There's a lot to fuss about.

The plan announced Thursday takes on more schools at one time than ever, so it's an even bigger fuss, but CPS insists the pain will be forgotten when students start winning -- and offers several examples.

OFFICIAL LIST:  Click HERE to see list of 61 CPS school buildings to close

Marquette Elementary in Chicago Lawn, one of the largest grammar schools in the system, has more than 1,300 students and last year. The custodian was afraid to walk through the halls.

"My female engineer who was here would take the roof to walk from one side of the building to the next, because she didn't wanna walk through the students," Marquette principal Latarsha Green says.

"No learning, fighting, violence, disrespecting, you know, it wasn't really an atmosphere where kids could actually wanna come to school and learn," parent Shimaya Hudson Puller says.

Puller is a mother of three who lobbied the school board for the turnaround plan--where all the adults are replaced. Even with the school's long history of low performance, her position was unpopular.

"It created a lot of tension, you know, with me not welcome anymore," Puller says.

"She has seen a drastic change in the education that her children have received in previous years compared to this year," Maria Isabel Rodriguez says.

The prospect of change had everybody stressed out last year, including Marquette sixth grader Salvador Madera Jr. He admits he was a bit nervous about the process and having new teachers.

"I thought they were gonna be real mean," Madera Jr. says.

Another sixth grader, Trinity Bennett, said that, "at first it was scary, until we just got to know everybody and then it turned out really nice."

"Students are growing in reading as well as math and so we're excited about it," Principal Green adds.

It has only been 7 months at Marquette, so for hard data, CPS sends us to Morton Elementary where it's been five years since every adult was replaced in a school that has deep roots in its west side neighborhood.

"My parents went here, and then I had six cousins that went here years ago, and then it was just really bad, it was like terrible," says Donna Taylor, mother of two Morton students.

Taylor says change was still scary and they felt badly for the longtime staff who had to re-apply if they wanted to keep their jobs. But in five years, test scores have gone from just over 40 percent of students meeting state standards, to nearly 80 percent.

"Excellence is the expectation," says Morton Academic Director Sharron Carroll. "That's what we breathe here, and you know that's what we want our kids to know, and our kids know that."

The teachers are careful not to judge what used to happen here, but their training is different; through AUSL, the Academy for Urban School Leadership.

"I was told before coming here that, you know, the work was strenuous but it doesn't seem any different from any other school that I've, you know, worked at," Morton teacher Raven Daniels says.

But the outcomes at these "turned around" schools are quite different. Local families say there's pride in what's now called the Morton School of Excellence.

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