Annual Regional Analysis

Six chances left to attend meetings on controversial school inventory report

PHOTO: Adeshina Emmanuel
Chicago schools parent Sherretha Richardson attended a meeting in November to review facts and trends in the school district's Annual Regional Analysis focused on the Far South Side's Greater Stony Island Region.

Chicago Public Schools will hold six more workshops offering the public a chance to comment on a controversial report about enrollment, academic options and quality at schools throughout Chicago.

The district’s Annual Regional Analysis divides the city into 16 “planning regions,” and shows that in many places, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools. The report, which heavily relies on school quality ratings, also shows that top academic schools are often concentrated in wealthier neighborhoods, and that fewer black and Latino students have access to those schools compared with their white and Asian peers. 

The district compiled the report with the assistance of the school-choice group Kids First using figures from the 2017-2018 school year.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report, and include small-group discussions to brainstorm how the district can invest in and strengthen schools.

Chalkbeat Chicago has attended two of the meetings so far. One was held in a predominantly black slice of the Far South Side where residents pushed the district to better engage families and help dispel stigmas they say make their campuses a tough pitch to prospective families. The other was in a mostly Latino swath of the city, where parents called for more resources for neighborhood schools, like counselors and bilingual teachers.

Here’s a list of presentations to come, and a preview of the issues facing communities where the meetings are scheduled:

Greater Midway Region — Dec. 6 — Curie Metropolitan High School, 4959 S. Archer Ave.

The Midway Region, which includes Southwest Side neighborhoods like Ashburn, Chicago Lawn, and Gage Park, has lost far fewer students than most regions in the Chicago. This part of Chicago has been growing while other parts have declined, as Latino families have poured in, older white populations have aged out and black residents, as in most parts of the city, have moved away. The number of district students living in the Greater Midway Region has dropped by about 2 percent since 2014-2015, compared with 6 percent citywide.

The region has a higher than average percentage of students who attend their neighborhood schools. Midway high schools offer many vocational courses, but provide comparatively fewer seats in International Baccalaureate and selective-enrollment program seats compared to the student population.

This map shows the number of IB program seats per 100 students available to elementary and high school students in each planning area.

North Lakefront Region —Dec. 11 — Sullivan High School, 6631 N. Bosworth Ave.

The student population living in the North Lakefront Region is one of the most diverse in the district, 37 percent Latino, 29 percent black, 17 percent white and 12 percent Asian. But the region has grown whiter and wealthier since 2014. The percent of students qualifying for subsidized lunch has dropped from 80 percent to 71 percent since 2014.

But in this diverse community, which includes neighborhoods like Uptown and Rogers Park, stark disparities remain: 63 percent of black students and 74 percent of Latino students attend a Level 1 or Level 1-plus school compared with 88 percent of white students.

Near West Side Region — Dec. 12 —Phoenix Military Academy High School, 145 S. Campbell Ave.

The booming but unequal Near West Side Region includes the glitzy West Loop but also high-poverty neighborhoods like the Tri-Taylor area. It’s the future site of a proposed $70 million high school backed by a pro-business group and a neighborhood organization led by mostly white professionals. The leader of one of the groups told Chalkbeat in an interview earlier this year that many supporters don’t view current neighborhood high schools, like Wells Academy, as acceptable options. 

While white people have flocked to the area, especially the affluent West Loop, the black population has plummeted. In 1990, about 66 percent of Near West Side residents were black and 19 percent were white. Nearly 20,000 new residents have moved in since then. Today, the Near West Side is 30 percent black and 42 percent white.

Only 7 percent high school students attend their zoned school — while more than 2,400 top-rated high school seats go unfilled. The Near West’s school-age population has increased, but enrollment in its schools has dropped. Most of its students are black, but they are the least likely to attend top-rated schools.

Bronzeville/South Lakefront Region — Dec. 13 — Dyett High School for the Arts, 555 E. 51st St.

When we talk about disparities at Chicago schools, the conversation usually compares historically underserved areas like the South Side to the majority white North Side. However, a large swath of the south lakefront, including Hyde Park, Kenwood, and Bronzeville shows how school-quality disparities exist even in a region where 92 percent of students are black.

Schools in the north and western parts of the Bronzeville/South Lakefront Region, toward Bronzeville, tend to have the lowest ratings, while schools closer to the lake and Hyde Park tend to have higher ratings.

Bronzeville, a culturally rich neighborhood known as Chicago’s “Black Metropolis,” has lost about half of its black population since 1990. The neighborhood is a short drive from Woodlawn, where the Obama Presidential Center is slated to be built.

The public school population in the region has decreased by 6.7 percent since the 2014-2015 school year. Enrollment in schools in the region is declining at a faster pace, 12.7 percent. Bronzeville elementary schools also have a dearth of fine and performing arts program seats, according to the district report.

PHOTO: Sam Park
This map shows the number of fine & performing arts program seats available to elementary school students in each “planning area.”

Northwest Side Region — Dec. 18 — Roosevelt High School, 3436 W. Wilson Ave.

Like the North Lakefront Region, this is a diverse part of the city’s North Side whose district population has grown whiter and more affluent in recent years. The Northwest Side Region’s student body is 47 percent Hispanic, 24 percent white and 16 percent Asian, while 67 percent qualify for subsidized lunch.

It includes several selective enrollment schools like Chappell Elementary School, Lane Technical High School, and Northside College Preparatory High School.

Among elementary students, 95 percent attend a Level 1 or 1-plus school. In high school, 85 percent of students attend the highest-rated high schools. In the Northwest Side, 42 out of 47 schools are highly rated.

Neighborhoods include community areas like Avondale, Lincoln Square, and Albany Park, where the local high school options offer dramatically different opportunities.

Central Area Region — Dec. 19 — Ray Graham Training Center High School, 2347 S. Wabash Ave.

The Central Area Region‘s student population is about 20 percent white, 30 percent Asian, 34 percent black and 11 percent Hispanic. It’s the only region where white and Asian students outnumber black and Hispanic students. The majority of students attend Level 1 or Level 1-plus schools, although black students are the most likely to attend Level 2 schools.

The area is gaining Asian students and losing black students, and the families are growing more moneyed. Of course, the Central Area includes downtown and the Loop, two of the wealthiest and well-developed parts of the city, and is home to several selective-enrollment schools.

The district population and enrollment have increased since 2014, unlike most parts of Chicago. Only 8 percent of high school students living in the area attend their zoned school, which may have to do with the abundance of competitive, selective-enrollment options, like Jones College Preparatory High School.

debating admissions

In a mostly black district, parents bring different concerns to debate over New York City’s specialized high schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Mutale Nkonde, a parent in Brooklyn's District 16, asked education department officials how black and Hispanic students would be supported in specialized high schools.

After raucous protests against plans to integrate New York City’s specialized high schools, parents in Brooklyn’s District 16 aired starkly different concerns about efforts to overhaul admissions at the coveted schools.

At a public meeting Monday night, parents in Bedford-Stuyvesant asked education department officials how they plan to support black and Hispanic students at specialized high schools, where those students are dramatically underrepresented.

“There are stakeholders within this city who do not want our children in those schools,” said Mutale Nkonde, a district parent with two children. “Ultimately, these are our children who we’re sending into potentially hostile environments.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio ignited a firestorm this summer with a push to eliminate the entrance exam that currently stands as the sole entrance criteria for the city’s specialized high schools. Critics blame the test for segregation at the schools, where only 10 percent of students are black or Hispanic, compared with almost 70 percent who are in district schools citywide. Alumni and some parents have vigorously pushed to keep the Specialized High School Admissions Test, or SHSAT, arguing it’s an unbiased measure that helps ensure the schools’ prestige.

 But parents in District 16 brought different demands to the table. Students in the district are mostly black, and 84 percent are from low-income families. Parents called for teaching practices that reflect the diverse experiences and cultures of these students. To underscore the need for a more welcoming environment at the elite schools, one parent pointed to a social media campaign in 2016 in which students posted about discrimination they faced at one specialized high school with the hashtag “Black in Brooklyn Tech.”

Parents also decried the education department’s efforts as small scale — only 25 black students from the district would be admitted to specialized high schools under the city’s plans. In a district where test scores are historically low and retaining students in local schools is a struggle, parent leaders said more systemic approaches are needed to lift performance and vaunt black, Hispanic, and low-income students to success.

Since the SHSAT is enshrined in state law, legislators will have to act on de Blasio’s plan. In the meantime, the city is expanding a program that offers admission to students who score just below the entrance cutoff.

“Our needs are not going to be met by getting the exact same things that everyone else gets,” said Lurie Daniel Favors, a parent and general counsel at the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College.

The meeting was in sharp contrast to last week, when about 300 parents packed a meeting that quickly grew heated in Manhattan’s District 2, a wealthy enclave that sends an outsized share of students to specialized high schools. Many of those present argued the city’s plan would send unprepared students to rigorous schools. Backlash in the Asian community has been particularly fierce; more than 60 percent of students at specialized high schools are Asian, compared with just 16 percent citywide.

Education department leaders highlighted a pilot initiative already underway at two specialized high schools to address climate concerns, including anti-bias training for students and staff at High School of American Studies at Lehman College, and training for black and Hispanic parents at Brooklyn Tech who will help serve as recruitment ambassadors for the school. They also pointed to initiatives such as an expansion of pre-K for 3-year-olds in District 16 as proof that the city is tackling wider inequities in the system.

“The fact that we had ‘Black in Brooklyn Tech,’” where young people were asking, “‘Is this a place for me?’ is a problem,” said LaShawn Robinson, deputy chancellor for school climate and wellness. “We have to address those problems, because every school in this system is a place for our young people.”  

Payroll Data

From pay to personnel, changes in the principal’s office shed light on Vitti’s first year — and his plans for the next

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
On his first day as Detroit schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, with former interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather, greets principals at a teacher hiring fair at Martin Luther King Jr. High School.

Take a look at the Detroit district’s payroll, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has already brought major changes to the principal’s office.

Fully 17 new principals have been hired at the Detroit Public Schools Community District since Vitti took over the superintendent’s office last summer, and another nine have transferred to new schools. Pay is up three percent, and principals now report to “principal leaders” — former principals whom Vitti tasked with overseeing turnaround efforts building-by-building.

(Find salary and staffing data for principals in the Detroit Public Schools Community District below. Chalkbeat has requested but has not yet received salary data for charter school principals from Michigan’s education department.)

But more than a year into a turnaround effort led by Vitti, those changes are likely only a start.

Vitti spent much of his first year moving the district to a new K-8 curriculum and reshaping the central office. It’s common for turnaround districts to replace principals — an Obama-era school improvement grant even required it as a first step. While Vitti’s administration hasn’t yet sought to completely overhaul the principal corps, he said this week that deeper changes can be expected next summer.

“This will be the first year we focus more closely on performance (staffing, attendance, enrollment, climate and culture, and student achievement),” he wrote in an email. “Last year the focus was on operations and setting the right culture and climate in schools to begin implementation of this year’s reform.

“We are not satisfied with principal salaries right now,” Vitti added, saying he wants to further increase pay, especially for principals who help improve schools with especially low attendance or test scores.

Education experts see principals as a key ingredient in any u-turn school improvement efforts like the ones underway in many Detroit district schools. They say principals deserve as much credit as anyone for a successful school turnaround, and they note that when things aren’t going well, principals are very often the first to leave.

The pressure facing principals in the district is one reason Vitti hired four principal leaders, about one for every 25 principals in the district. Other districts have found that extra coaching for principals can pay off for schools, especially in large cities.

Staffing data obtained by Chalkbeat makes clear that changes to the principal corps are already a significant piece of Vitti’s legacy. Nearly one-third of the district’s roughly 100 schools have a new principal who was hired by Vitti’s administration.

Still, the district hasn’t seen the high level of principal turnover that often accompanies turnaround efforts.  Most of the departing principals retired or accepted a job elsewhere, Vitti said, and only a handful of school leaders were removed for low performance.

“We did not make more principal changes last year because we wanted to give principals the opportunity to learn and grow professionally,” he said. “Under emergency management, time and resources were not spent on building principal capacity to drive instructional reform.”

Despite a 3 percent raise this year, Vitti says pay for principals remains near the top of his to-do list. He wants to tie principal salaries to the size of the school, the principal’s performance, and the school’s historic performance. The idea is that principals should be paid more for helping a large, struggling school improve.

While it seems at first glance that principal salaries have already undergone major changes since June of 2016, Vitti says those changes are largely due to the district’s decision to treat principal as 12-month employees instead of nine-month employees. Under the previous system, principals who chose to work summer school received an additional stipend that didn’t appear in their overall salary, meaning their actual pay has changed less than it might appear on paper.

That’s why the data shows that the average salary for principals increased by 10 percent even though they only received a 3 percent raise.

Vitti said principals received raises if they took on more responsibilities at their current school or were transferred to larger or more challenging schools. Still, their salaries aren’t necessarily tied to their school or their level experience because principals in the district aren’t unionized and aren’t paid on a fixed scale.

There hasn’t been much change at the top of the pay range. While the top salary increased from $117,000 in 2016 to $131,000 today, the people earning those salaries — including the principals at Cass Technical High School, Cody High School, Pershing High Schools, and John R. King Academic and Performing Arts Academy  — remained the same. Cass is one of Detroit’s elite high schools, while Cody and Pershing are among its most troubled. John R. King is a large K-8 program with low test scores and high rates of chronic absenteeism.

Nearly half of the district’s 102 principals are clustered at the bottom of the pay range, making around $100,000 per year.

The lowest paid principals include dozens of returning principals, as well as new arrivals and two former Cass Tech teachers who Vitti tapped to lead Detroit School of Arts and Nolan Elementary-Middle School.

As the state of Michigan ratchets up accountability for principals, Vitti’s administration says higher pay will help attract replacements for principals who retire or who don’t cut muster.

While philanthropists have stepped up to help train some principals, the district no longer has an internal training program for school leaders. It ended during a decades-long period of declining enrollment, budget cuts, and administrative turmoil, which also led many Detroit administrators to flee for more stable suburban districts.

Jeffery Robinson, principal at Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy, stuck it out for the last 11 years without a raise, and he says he welcomes the changes Vitti is proposing, especially the changes in pay. Even with the raise earlier this year, he says Detroit principals are still undercompensated compared to similar districts, especially taking into account the challenges their schools face. Principals in the district don’t have a union, but Robinson is part of a “focus group” that will meet with Vitti to hash out the details of changes to the pay scale.

Robinson says he supports the idea of paying principals based on the kind of school they manage.

“While both are complex, there are still some things that have to be managed at the high school level that don’t have to be managed at the K-8 level” he said.

Both Robinson and Wendy Zdeb, executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, say the most important figure isn’t how many principals have left the district — it’s how many have stayed in spite of the difficult conditions.

“I find that administrators in Detroit are really committed,” Zdeb said. “They’re the consistency of the district, when you really think about it.”


See below for a list of current principals in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. You can search for names at the top right corner.

Note that the pay increases evident in this table largely weren’t raises. Vitti shifted principals to a 12-month schedule instead of 10-month schedule, so their salaries rose. However, many had already been receiving that extra pay in the form of a stipend for running summer school.

Source: Detroit Public Schools Community District payroll as of June 2016 and October 2018. “NA” means the principal was not employed by the district in June 2016.