Urban School Leadership Academy to Turnaround Struggling Chicago Schools

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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invests $10.3 million to support AUSL’s high school turnarounds and teacher residency program

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Arne Duncan joined the Chicago-based Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) to announce an investment of $10.3 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the turnaround of chronically underperforming district schools. AUSL will use the funds to transform three CPS-selected high schools over the next several years and expand its teacher residency program.

“Since taking on the challenge of raising the performance of our schools, we have definitely seen progress across the city and have become a national model for urban school reform,” said Mayor Daley. “But as I’ve said many times, there are still too many schools that consistently under-perform. The Academy for Urban School Leadership has shown promising results in schools under its management and this expanded partnership will enable more CPS students to receive the education they deserve to meet their full potential in life.”

AUSL is the only national program of its kind to combine a teacher training residency with a school turnaround strategy to dramatically improve academic achievement. AUSL already has led the turnaround of two Chicago elementary schools – the Sherman School of Excellence, which opened in Englewood in September 2006, and the Harvard School of Excellence, which opened in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood in September 2007. At Sherman, scores on the Illinois Standards Assessment Test have risen by seven percentage points since AUSL assumed management of the school, while at Harvard, attendance rates have already increased to 94.2 percent since the start of the school year, compared with a rate of 89.8 percent in the 2006-2007 school year. Altogether, AUSL currently manages a network of eight CPS schools, including two high schools and six elementary schools.

Earlier this month, CPS selected AUSL to lead upcoming turnaround efforts at Orr High School and two of its feeder schools, Howe Elementary School and Morton Elementary School, which would expand AUSL’s network to a total of 11 schools. If approved by the school board, students will return to their “old” schools next fall to find new administrators and teachers, a new curriculum, and an improved facility, all designed to create a stronger teaching and learning environment. By expecting more of students academically and surrounding them with the support they need, AUSL believes it can transform these struggling schools and provide all its students with a high-quality education. Orr will be the first high school slated for turnaround by AUSL, with foundation funds available for two other CPS high schools in the future.

“Over the past four years, we have made some progress in turning around underperforming schools, but we have a ways to go before our vision is achieved,” said Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan. “Teacher quality and retention continues to be a challenge, particularly in low-income areas, and that is one of AUSL’s areas of expertise.”

AUSL’s Urban Teacher Residency program pairs recent college graduates and mid-career teachers with experienced anchor teachers who serve as their mentors for an intensive, year-long apprenticeship. During the year, teacher residents also earn a master’s degree at either National-Louis University or the University of Illinois at Chicago and state teaching certification. To gain acceptance into the program, teachers must commit to spending five years teaching in an underperforming CPS school. They also gain continued support from AUSL’s network with three years of professional development and coaching.

“We know that there are many teachers who want to make a difference in high-need urban schools-and many make a valiant effort-but too few are adequately prepared for the unique challenges in these classrooms,” said Martin J. Koldyke, founder and chairman of AUSL. “Our mantra is attract, train, retain. Our teacher training program is based on continual learning and support from veteran teachers as well as clinical classroom experience.”

Over the past six years, AUSL has trained nearly 250 teachers who serve more than 5,000 Chicago Public School children from low-income backgrounds. AUSL maintains a 91 percent retention rate among graduates of its teacher training program. By contrast, nearly 40 percent of all public school teachers in Chicago leave the profession, at least temporarily, within five years, according to a 2007 study by the Illinois Education Research Council.

Like many urban districts, Chicago has long struggled with low graduation and high dropout rates. The city had a graduation rate of 51.5 percent for the Class of 2004, according to the latest “Diplomas Count” report by Education Week, compared with a national graduation rate of 70 percent.

“All students, no matter where they live or what schools they attend, deserve an education that prepares them for college, career, and life success,” said Steve Seleznow, program director for education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “By aggressively targeting struggling schools and effectively supporting students and staff, AUSL has the opportunity to become a promising solution to a national education crisis.”

Today’s investment builds on a previous foundation grant that helped create AUSL’s Collins Academy High School. Collins, which opened in the fall of 2007 with 150 ninth-grade students, is slated to become the organization’s second high school teacher training academy. Five other teacher training sites are operated by AUSL: Chicago Academy, Dodge Renaissance Academy, Tarkington School of Excellence, Chicago Academy High School, and the National Teachers Academy.

Academy for Urban School Leadership was founded in 2001 by Martin J. Koldyke, venture capitalist and founder of The Golden Apple Foundation. He inspired and engaged a group of educators, business and community leaders to design a program that would significantly advance and reform the teaching profession. AUSL’s mission is to improve student achievement in chronically failing schools by attracting, retaining, and training highly effective teachers and school leaders, ultimately transforming schools into schools of excellence by opening and managing turnaround schools.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people-especially those with the fewest resources-have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Patty Stonesifer and co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

Alan Gray is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of NewsBlaze Daily News and other online newspapers. He prefers to edit, rather than write, but sometimes an issue rears it’s head and makes him start pounding the keyboard. Alan has a fascination with making video and video editing, so watch out if he points his Canon 7d in your direction.