With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What's happened to Chicago Vocational?

In the early 90's Chicago Vocational High School became the first large high school in the city to restructure into smaller academies. With strong leadership and a skilled veteran faculty, this massive school, which peaked at 4,200 students, was able to offer students and parents a range of career academies with lots of student choice and personalized learning, while still maintaining after-school activities, sports teams and marching band. CVCA's reputation was transformed from that of, as one student put it, "a thuggy school" to being "the pride of Chicago". The transformation was beautifully portrayed by filmmaker Jeff Spitz in his 1994 documentary, "Tell No Lies" and documented in several case studies, including "Breaking Down the Monolith."

But when CPS and foundation leaders moved away from the small schools strategy to a singular focus on testing and ultimately to school closings, CVCA suffered from an increase in school violence and severe program cuts. Its reputation suffered and its small academies disintegrated.

Flash forward to the story appearing this morning at Chicago Talks.

Teachers at a South Side vocational school last week accused Chicago Public School administrators of creating chaos for students by shifting teachers around weeks into the school year and preventing students from taking courses in their majors. Carol Caref, a math teacher at the Chicago Vocational Career Academy on the city’s southeast side, told Chicago Board of Education members that the late-September layoffs forced the school to shut down three of its areas of study...But Ron Huberman, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, said little can be done to fix the problem. With CPS facing a massive $700 million deficit next year, the district cannot afford to keep teachers with small classrooms on the payroll, he said.

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