Future of Schools

Whitehaven High principal not leaving school improvement program he helped start after all

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Vincent Hunter at a block party at Havenview Middle School in July 2018.

Almost a month after a shocking announcement ousting the leader from a fledgling school improvement program, the longtime principal isn’t going anywhere.

Shante Avant, the school board chairwoman whose district includes the Whitehaven schools in the Empowerment Zone, said Monday that Vincent Hunter will continue to both lead Whitehaven High School and coach principals in the program’s nine schools.

The robocall last month to parents and staff of the Empowerment Zone announcing his departure from leading the program was a surprise to members of the leadership council that regularly meets with district officials on the program’s progress.

That robocall is also how Hunter found out about the news.

“I was in the car with my wife and she put it on speaker phone and let me hear it,” Hunter said.

At the center of the misfire were negotiations to transfer some administrative responsibilities of leading the zone from Hunter to the district’s central office because the program is set to double in size this fall.

“It was too soon to send anything out while we were working out the details,” Avant said. “It should never have been sent out.”

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson tapped Hunter to lead the Empowerment Zone in 2016 as a neighborhood-centric approach to improving schools. The effort was meant to build off the successes of the district’s Innovation Zone, which has sustained student academic gains for some of the lowest performing schools in the state. It was also meant to shield a group of low-performing schools in Whitehaven from state takeover.

Eddie Jones, the president of the leadership council and a county commissioner, said adding six schools to the zone at once was not in the original plan. The leadership council’s bylaws, he said, phased schools in at a slower pace.

“We weren’t against it, but a lot of things had to change after that,” Jones said.

It is unclear who authorized the district’s robocall to thousands of parents and staff announcing Hunter had “decided to no longer lead” the program and would instead “focus his talents on solely leading Whitehaven High School.” According to Jones, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson was on vacation when it happened.

“Once it went out, the superintendent took prompt action and told everyone to stand down,” so he could assess the situation, Jones said. Hopson did not respond to a request to comment Monday.

Avant said now that some administrative duties are off his plate, Hunter can “focus on what he does well, which is coaching” other principals.

“We had to figure out the best way for him to do the things he loves to do,” she said.

Whitehaven Empowerment Zone schools by year

  • 2016-17: Whitehaven High, Havenview Middle
  • 2017-18: Holmes Road Elementary, A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • 2018-19: Geeter K-8 (formerly Geeter Middle and Manor Lake Elementary), Whitehaven Elementary, Oakshire Elementary, Robert R. Church Elementary, and John P. Freeman Elementary

live stream

WATCH: Candidates for Detroit school board give opening statements live

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

The nine candidates for Detroit school board are gathering Thursday evening at IBEW 58 in Detroit to make their cases in advance of the November general election in which two seats are up for grabs.

The candidates have already introduced themselves in video statements, but this is one of their first chances to address the public in real time.

We’re covering the event — including a live stream the candidates’ opening statements, which should start around 6 p.m.

Click below or check out our Facebook page to see what they have to say.


 

Career-technical education

How Chicago schools are using cool classes like aviation and game design to repopulate neighborhood schools

PHOTO: Steve Hendershot / Chalkbeat
Students in a pre-law class at Chicago's Mather High fill out college applications on Sept. 19, 2018. The class is one of the school's career technical education offerings that it hopes will attract more students to enroll in the school.

Vocational education used to mean machine shops and sewing classes, programs aimed at students who weren’t headed for college. But career education has changed to fit the tastes of today’s students and the needs of the 21st-century job market, and now encompasses courses ranging from game design and aviation to architecture and digital media.

And Chicago schools are expanding their array of career-prep courses in hopes of enticing students back to languishing neighborhood high schools.

A tour of Mather High on Wednesday demonstrated how Chicago schools are viewing career education differently. It’s a means of both attracting students with training in popular subjects and using those practical classes to teach fundamental concepts — all very much aimed at sending some career-track students to college.

For example, Mather’s pre-law curriculum includes a criminology course where students learn about psychology, as well as a mock-trial element where they learn classical principles of rhetoric and argument. The pre-law program also dedicates time to helping its students submit college applications — hardly the focus of traditional trade-school curricula.

At Mather in West Ridge, second-year Principal Peter Auffant reversed a five-year slide in enrollment after expanding career-related classes. About a third of Mather’s 1,500 students are enrolled in one of its four career-education tracks, including a brand-new pre-engineering curriculum. A digital media track is slated to begin next fall. Besides more than three dozen classes, career-related offerings also include internships, such as stint working in city council members’ offices or at downtown law firms.  

“CTE allows us to provide very unique programming that students can’t get anywhere else,” Auffant said, referring to the commonly used shorthand for career technical education. “We leverage that to create stable enrollments.”

Mather senior William Doan is a case study. Three years ago, the West Ridge resident was looking at high schools outside his neighborhood — selective-enrollment schools as well as those offering the rigorous, college-preparatory International Baccalaureate curriculum, but ultimate chose to stay close to home because Mather’s pre-law program aligned with his interest in law enforcement.

“It kind of just drew me in,” Doan said. “You get a taste for the law and how it really is in the real world.”

Doan’s experience reflects a trend that’s shaping curricular decisions in Chicago and around the country. Congress this summer approved $1.1 billion to expand career education. Such offerings are among Chicago Public Schools’ most popular, according to a report released last month by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.  

Some of those programs focus on traditional vocational education, such as the building trades program at Prosser High in Belmont Cragin that Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced this month would be funded with a $12 million investment. Others like those at Mather include non-traditional offerings, described as “21st century CTE” by Jarrod Nagurka. He is advocacy and public affairs manager for the Alexandria, Virginia-based Association for Career & Technical Education, which sponsored Wednesday’s school tour.

Nearly every Chicago high school has at least one career offering, though access to the most popular programs varies across the city, as does the breadth of the programming at each school. One factor among mid-sized schools such as Mather is the administrative burden of supporting extensive career programming alongside other elective programs such as International Baccalaureate.

“To do both (IB and career education) really well you have to be larger,” Auffant said.

So Mather is pursuing a hybrid strategy that uses career-education classes to teach college-prep concepts. Teachers use real-world vocational settings to explore the academic concepts that undergird them.

“The foundation of curriculum design is backward design,” said Sarah Rudofsky, the school district’s manager of curriculum and instruction for CTE. That means consulting with industry partners about the skills graduates need, then building curricula to suit. In a pre-law course, for example, those core skills are destined to overlap with traditional college-prep coursework, but geared to a practical application.

“It’s important to us to change the conversation from ‘CTE is for students who don’t want to go to college’ to ‘This program is for any young person who wants to have some employability skills before they graduate from high school’ — applied math, applied science and applied literacy,” Rudofsky said.