By Barbara Byrd-Bennett
July 31, 2014
Change, the writer Kelly A. Morgan once observed, is inevitable and not always controllable. But what can be controlled is how we manage, react and work through the change process.
During the past school year, the Chicago Public Schools faced the daunting task of ensuring that more than 10,000 of our children successfully transitioned from their former closed schools to more than 400 new schools dotted across our city.
Such a task presents plenty of challenges, and no shortage of skeptics. But as we prepare for the 2014-2015 school year, it is time for us — as a school district and as a city — to step back for a moment and take a collective bow. The herculean efforts of our entire CPS community — parents, community leaders, teachers, principals and many others — transformed massive change into a success.
Recent data verified by the Illinois State Board of Education clearly show that more than 99 percent of the students some critics claimed CPS had “lost” in the closure process were enrolled in other schools in the state, transferred out of state or enrolled in a private school.
In fact, of the 847 students identified by our critics as “lost,” only seven could not be accounted for by the state. Seven. That is seven students from a total of 11,729 of our children affected by the school closures.
The data went on to show that of the students no longer attending CPS schools, one in three is enrolled in another Illinois public school, while nearly half of those not re-enrolling left Illinois public schools altogether.
One “lost” child is one too many. But the horror stories about hundreds of children “lost” to the streets during this transition were simply misguided efforts to distract us from our mission to give every child in every neighborhood the great education they deserve.
The full accounting for the fate of virtually every child affected by the decision to consolidate underutilized schools is not the only good news to emerge from our efforts — it is simply the latest. Mid-term data from the 2013-2014 school year showed that grade-point averages, attendance and student-on-track rates were up, and misconducts were down, for students impacted by consolidation. We expect the final data from the past school year to continue to affirm the great work CPS students, teachers and staff are doing each day.
It is not surprising that others are taking notice. We have been invited to participate in the annual Council of the Great City Schools conference in Milwaukee this October to tell our story and share our lessons learned with representatives of the nation’s largest 66 districts. While CPS staff will make several presentations, I expect we will focus on several common truths that have guided our work:
† Our children’s academic achievement and well-being come first, and we base every decision on what is best for our students. We hold high expectations for every student.
† Every child must have access to a high-quality education. We need high standards, rigorous curriculum and powerful instruction for all, regardless of their neighborhood, diverse learning needs or English proficiency.
† For our students to succeed we need engaged and empowered families and communities. We must find ways to remove barriers to learning with practices that promote children’s health and safety and social and emotional development.
† Our teachers, principals and administrators will be valued and developed, will hold themselves accountable and will be rewarded for success. CPS must be a place where the best talent comes to work.
We teach our children that anything worth doing is worth doing well. It is gratifying that we, as adults, have followed our own good advice.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett is CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.