Super School project

Memphis group advances in Laurene Jobs’ contest to reinvent America’s high schools

PHOTO: Micaela Watts
Crosstown High School would be located on the fourth and fifth floors of the redeveloped Crosstown Concourse building, joining other tenants in Memphis from mostly educational, healthcare and retail sectors.

Supporters of Crosstown High School are vying to use the proposed selective school in midtown Memphis as the canvas to remake America’s high school in a national contest backed by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

The board of directors for the Memphis educational endeavor announced Monday that its application is one of 348 to advance to the next round of of the XQ Super School Challenge, which Jobs announced last September, inviting teams to reimagine how high schools can better prepare students for college, workplace and life.

The competition received nearly 700 applications from 45 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico — twice as many as the philanthropic effort expected. Five winners will be announced this August and will receive $10 million each — $2 million annually for five years — to develop new educational approaches.

“Our XQ application was the result of months of hard work by a large and diverse group of volunteers, including young people, parents, educators and many other community members who all have a stake in the future of our city’s public education,” said Michelle McKissack, a member of the proposed school’s board of directors.

Backers want Crosstown High School to be a selective college prep program operated as a contract school in a partnership between Shelby County Schools and Christian Brothers University, which is now part of a new nonprofit group called Crosstown High School Inc. The 500-student school would serve students who perform on or above grade level on state tests. It would open in fall 2017 and operate under an independent governing board.

Shelby County’s school board got its first look in January at the proposed partnership supported by Superintendent Dorsey Hopson. Members generally were open to the proposal but expressed concern about the school achieving diversity in a district where at least 65 percent of students come from poor families. The current proposal calls for a student population of at least 35 percent who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Board member Chris Caldwell, who represents the district that would be home to the new school, said the partnership proposal is still under discussion and that he supports efforts such as the XQ campaign that may yield new resources. “I wish them luck,” he said Monday. “Any school that is going to operate within Shelby County Schools that can get these kinds of resources is a great accomplishment.”

Crosstown High would be located in Crosstown Concourse, a former Sears warehouse building undergoing a massive renovation with tenants from mostly educational, healthcare and retail sectors. It would leverage partnerships and resources available through tenants including Church Health Center, Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis Teacher Residency, Crosstown Arts and others.

The proposed school would represent a new direction for the school board, which for years has focused almost exclusively on efforts to improve Memphis’ lowest-performing schools. Hopson has said the district is seeking to increase options for high-quality schools in order to retain or attract students to Shelby County Schools who might otherwise go to a private school.

“This incredibly unique opportunity includes the space of the school itself,” McKissack said of the XQ effort. “Instead of trying to fit such an innovative high school into an existing school building, Crosstown Concourse offers us a blank slate, an open space with no walls to design a physical learning environment that is one-of-a-kind and presents us with limitless possibilities for collaboration, skills development, and learning.”

Schools chosen to advance to the next round of the contest represent 41 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico and must submit their next applications by May 23.

“This next part of the process is really about putting the flesh on the bones and demonstrating how the school would be operational,” said Ginger Spickler, a Memphis parent who created the Memphis School Guide and is a contributor to the application process.

Powell Jobs created the XQ Institute in an effort to bring Silicon Valley thinking to education to fix the biggest problems facing the nation’s high schools. The institute kicked off its work with the national contest.

Common themes that emerged from the first round of applications include a desire to make high schools the center of the community again; a desire to build school designs around involvement of the students themselves; and learning styles that focus on mastery of topic, project collaboration, blended subjects and applications in higher ways.

McKissack said the contest has provided an opportunity to galvanize education stakeholders in Memphis.

“Whether or not we ultimately make it all the way through the XQ Super School Challenge, we have definitely come to better understand the unique opportunity a Crosstown High School affords us,” she said.

Disclosure: Chalkbeat receives support from the Emerson Collective, which launched XQ.

Correction: April 11, 2016: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the competition had received nearly 700 applications from 49 states. The correct number is 45 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Why not Michigan?

As Michigan’s poorest 4-year-olds wait for classroom seats, free pre-K for all kids seems elusive

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
All New York City four year-olds — including these kids who attend school is in the city's education department headquarters — are guaranteed a spot in a city-funded pre-K. In Michigan, far fewer students have access to free preschool.

Michigan is the home to America’s most famous study on the benefits of early childhood education.

But when it comes to providing free prekindergarten for all children, other states and cities are leading the way.

Vermont, Florida, Washington, and the District of Columbia have public programs for all 4-year-olds, regardless of income. Seven more states have greatly expanded their pre-K programs, too, including Wisconsin, where free voluntary pre-K is in the state’s 1848 constitution.

But not Michigan. Not yet, at least.

The pioneering Perry Preschool Study began in Ypsilanti in 1962 and followed 123 study participants starting at age 3 through the age of 40. Among the study’s  findings: Those who went to pre-K were more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to repeat grades. They were also less likely to use drugs or commit crimes.

As they grew older, they were more likely to be employed and to have stable homes, savings accounts, significantly higher incomes, and report good relations with their families.

Skills such as cooperative play lay the groundwork for children to get along with others. In addition, learning to use fine motor skills and mastering shapes, colors, numbers, and the alphabet, contribute to future growth.

Further research has underscored the worth of pre-K, making it a rare realm of bipartisan support. In fact, funding for early childhood education has risen under the past three governors.

“I’ve been around long enough to see Democrats and Republicans in office, and early childhood education continues to be on the radar as a positive,” said Lena Montgomery, director of the Wayne County branch of the Great Start Readiness Program, a state funded initiative for 4-year-olds from low-income families.

But even though the governor’s own 21st Century Education Commission recommended that Michigan expand pre-K with $390 million in new investment, he chose instead to further study the impact of Great Start. In his most recent budget, he allocated $300,000 to do that research, and kept spending for Great Start flat at $245.6 million.

Momentum toward providing publicly funded pre-K, often called universal preschool, has been slowed by cost, teacher shortages, and family resistance, advocates say. They also note that there is no incentive for different institutions to pool their money to pay for a more comprehensive pre-K program in the state.  

Other states and cities have navigated similar challenges. But Michigan families face a patchwork of options. They may keep young children at home, pay for private childcare or pre-K, or, if they meet income or disability requirements, they can enroll them in Great Start or federally funded Head Start. Both are designed to support vulnerable children, including families with low-incomes.

But there aren’t enough seats, even for every child in need. Great Start’s Montgomery said she has 27 programs with qualified families on wait lists. It’s common, she said, for policymakers to say they support children. But some families are still falling into the gaps because more money is needed, she said.

About 133,000 Michigan children are not enrolled in any early childhood program.

Half of Wayne County’s 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in various pre-K programs, said Iheoma Iruka of Highscope, though she added that “we can’t vouch for the quality of these programs.”

The education plan of Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic nominee for governor, advocates for a universal program that expands Great Start until all 4-year-olds are eligible, similar to what the 21st Century Education Commission recommended. It would be paid for, according to her campaign staff, with anticipated increases in the School Aid Fund, which is mostly made up of sales, income, and property taxes. It would also use tax revenue from, among other things, the marijuana ballot initiative that’s expected to pass in November. Tax hikes shouldn’t be necessary, her staff said.

Bill Schuette, the Republican nominee, has an education plan that emphasizes third-grade literacy over pre-K. It mentions need-based transportation scholarships for preschoolers, and he said in a recent interview that universal pre-K was an option that he’d consider.

Hope Starts Here, the $50 million initiative created by the Kellogg and Kresge foundations to improve Detroit’s early childhood systems, has a number of suggestions to pay for universal pre-K. Among them: a dedicated tax proposal, a local sales tax on alcohol, coordinated philanthropic and corporate giving, and leveraging all federal grant money.

States and cities around the nation have experimented with other strategies. Georgia tied pre-K funding to the state lottery. New York City’s new universal program for all 3- and 4-year-olds comes from a mix of city, state and federal funding. Oklahoma, a pioneer in the field, discovered that school districts with half-day kindergartens were receiving state money meant for full-day programs. Lawmakers reformed the state aid formula so that those resources went into pre-K. (The districts had been spending the extra money on sports.)

Others have expanded access by combining different sources of money. North Carolina integrated pre-K with its K-12 schools and contributed part of the Title 1 money that’s allocated to school districts. Chicago is moving toward universal pre-K with a mix of state and district budget increases, and block grants. Washington, D.C. blends Head Start and local funding into its education formula.

A pilot model for blended funding in Michigan can be found in Flint, where the state’s only Educare program is based on the grounds of a former elementary school. The national Educare Early Learning Network draws from multiple revenue sources, including federal, state, and philanthropic dollars.

But regardless of where the money is coming from, opportunities to expand pre-K programs may be missed because of the statewide teacher shortage. In addition,  salaries are not as high as they are in K-12 schools. The median salary for Head Start teachers is $27,613, and for lead Great Start teachers, $37,440, according to a statewide advocacy organization.

To recruit and retain more teachers at all levels, including pre-K,  a new public-private initiative called Teach 313 launched in Detroit in August. Other places facing shortages or high turnover for its preschool teachers have turned to Teach for America to fill gaps, or provided scholarships for early childhood educators to obtain degrees that would raise their wages.

But before Michigan can explore other strategies and expand into universal pre-K, it needs to make the program it already has available to more families.

If you ask Montgomery from Great Start about her wish list, it begins with providing pre-K to all the children who are sitting on waitlists.

“It would be wonderful to to say to parents, ‘We have a spot for your child,’” Montgomery said. “ ‘You don’t have to wait for someone to drop out or leave.’ It would be wonderful to say to the people who want to run programs, or to expand their programs in their communities, ‘We have the funds for you set up and run a high quality program.’ ”

enrollment

Who’s in and who’s not? Chicago board to announce new boundaries for popular Taft High

PHOTO: Tim Boyle / Getty Images
Taft High School is one of Chicago Public Schools' most overenrolled campuses. In 2019, it will spin off its freshman class to a separate campus.

The Chicago school board will announce much-anticipated new attendance boundaries on Tuesday for one of its most crowded schools, William Howard Taft High School on the Northwest side.

Starting next school year, Taft will spin off one grade level to a new campus, the Taft Freshman Academy, which is expected to enroll 1,000 freshman. Chicago Public Schools will give those living within the new attendance area priority in enrollment.

“I look forward to what CPS has to say about the new campus,” Taft Principal Mark Grishaber told Chalkbeat Chicago. “This is good for every kid on the Northwest side.”

A community meeting on the new boundaries will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Wilbur Wright College, 4300 N. Narragansett Ave.

At its regular monthly meeting at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, the board will discuss the Taft boundaries and also what to do about its underrolled schools, which are primarily neighborhood schools.  A state law signed in August requires Chicago to make a plan for intervening in schools that do not have enough students.

The Chicago school district faces a critical decline in enrollment, but still plans to invest $1 billion to shore up existing schools and build new ones.