AUSTIN — Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced an expansion of the city’s Opportunity Schools program for the 2019-20 school year that will see 10 new high schools receiving assistance.
The announcement was made at a press conference at Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet School in Austin, where the mayor was joined by Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson to share the list of 10 schools, including Clark, that will receive support through the Opportunity Schools program. The program helps recruit and retain teachers at understaffed schools by matching highly qualified educators with high-vacancy schools.
The program also provides mentorship and professional support for teachers in their first year, an effort CPS officials say has increased retention rates for new teachers in the first three years of their career teaching with CPS by 19.1. percent and reduced teacher vacancy rates at Opportunity Schools by 9.1 percent.
The 10 new Opportunity Schools:
- Air Force Academy High School
- Chicago Vocational Career Academy High School
- Michele Clark Magnet High School
- George H. Corliss High School
- Edwin G. Foreman College and Career Academy
- Gage Park High School
- Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy
- Greater Lawndale High School for Social Justice
- Kelvyn Park High School
- Multicultural Academy of Scholarship
Lightfoot also promised to increase the number of nurses, special education case managers and social workers in the district. Over the next five years, CPS will add at least 250 new nurses and more than 200 new social workers as permanent staff rather than relying on temporary contracts for school support staff.
“For too many of our children, their school is their safe haven. It’s the only place that they know where they can get safety and security. They need our support, and they’re going to get it,” Lightfoot said.
Career Technical Education programs will also be expanded by ensuring at least 50 percent of students are matched with an internship or apprenticeship by 2023. Additionally, all students in these programs will receive career exposure experiences such as job shadowing opportunities, the mayor said.
Clark Principal Charles Anderson Jr. said the Opportunity Schools program helps funnel qualified teachers to the school.
“I’m so proud to say that as of today, this is probably one of the first times I can really say this, but by July 25, we were fully staffed,” Anderson said.
Like many other schools on the West Side, Clark has consistently been understaffed, leaving the school to rely on substitute teachers and even school administrators to step in to teach classes, the principal said. That drastically impacts the quality of education the school is able to deliver to students and damages young people’s feeling of self-worth, Anderson said.
“No longer will my kids feel like we’re not good enough,” he said.
Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Education and Child Development, commended the mayor and Jackson and said the announcement was a good first step to bringing more resources to the West Side, including the ward he represents.
“I have many schools that I think would meet the criteria for opportunity schools,” he said.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), who represents the ward Michele Clark Magnet School is in, said he expects this investment to impact the development of Austin as a whole. Stronger neighborhood schools are one of the best ways to make the area safer and more prosperous in the long run, he said.
When you bring more resources and technology to a school “the community has better opportunity, a better chance for growth,” Taliaferro said.
CPS officials also pledged to reevaluate its school funding formulas to address concerns of unfair distribution of funding across different areas in the city. As part of the examination process, Lightfoot said she will prioritize community input to find more accurate ways to dole out funding to the city’s schools.
“I’ve heard concerns from parents and community members that our neighborhood schools need more investment because their children’s futures depend on it. … We must do better to bridge the equity gap and CPS and we will do that,” Lightfoot said.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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