New progress reports aim to help students navigate life after high school

Donald Aguirre wants to be a professional basketball player.

“But if that doesn’t work out, I want to be an entrepreneur and start my own business,” said the sophomore at Wells Community Academy High School.

Either path will take a lot of planning and focus — something he says is easier with the new progress reports the varsity hoops player and other high schoolers get via a district college and career planning program.

On Friday, Chicago Public Schools rolled out new way to help high schoolers navigate their path after graduation. The district emailed the reports to students Friday, and officials said that school counselors would arrange meetings to go over the reports with students.

The reports are tied to “Learn. Plan. Succeed,” a two-year-old program that requires high school students to map out their post-graduation lives, with support from school counselors.

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel and schools Chief Janice Jackson visited Wells on Friday to announce the personalized reports, which display students’ SAT and PSAT scores, their current grade point average, and progress toward graduation requirements. The reports show what college options are within reach, and a checklist of students’ next steps. The reports relay information about potential jobs in industries the students are interested in, salary scales and required education.

At a press conference in the library attended by a handful of students, school staff and district leaders, Emanuel emphasized his oft-repeated refrain that graduating from high school “is a milestone — not the final destination” for students. “High school,” he said, “has to be about preparing them for what’s next.”

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Jackson stressed that students face multiple pathways after high school, whether that means the military, college, or a trade that doesn’t require a degree. She said the reports centralize student data in an easy-to-digest form that should promote clearer conversations about students’ plans after high school.

“This really is a tool to support them to have a three-way conversation with the students and parents,” Jackson said.

Michael D. Horton, who works at the school as a counselor, athletic department director and varsity basketball coach, described the progress reports as “an extension of the work we already do.”  

After the announcement, district CEO Janice Jackson moderated a roundtable discussion with seven students (including business-minded hooper Donald Aguirre), Horton, and Emmanuel, focused on planning for life after high school — and success. Some of the students were in JROTC and had aspirations of joining the Army or Air Force. Others wanted to be lawyers, nurses, doctors, psychologists or work with children. Several, like Aguirre, were considering business.

(Adeshina Emmanuel)

Related: Chicago graduation rates climb again, but district has ‘work to do’ to narrow racial gaps

Last year, about 78 percent of district students earned a high school diploma within five years, an increase over previous years. Gaps in graduation rates between white and black students declined, from 17 percentage points in 2017 to 14.4 percentage point last year, and there was a significant narrowing between white and Latino students, with the gap separating them falling from 7.6 percentage points to 4.6 percentage points.

The Chicago Teachers Union has expressed concerns that the post-graduation planning burdens already-busy school counselors.

But Jackson emphasized Friday that the district has filled 18 administrative positions to support post-secondary planning and has established postsecondary leadership teams at every school. She also emphasized that the district partners with organizations like One Goal focused on getting students to and through college.

“We know there are a myriad of partners in Chicago who come together around this,” Jackson said. “And the reports we released today actually are an additional support to counselors.”