With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Friday, February 5, 2010

The South Loop "Turnaround"

This morning's Chicago Tribune ran a big story on South Loop Elementary ("South Loop School at crossroads"). South Loop was touted by Arne Duncan as one of his models of a successful "turnaround school."

The Trib says test scores have gone up over the last 10 years and I don't doubt it. I mean, half the 640-student school in this gentrified neighborhood, is now a "gifted program" [code word] in order to attract middle class parents. If that doesn't give your school a test-score bump, nothing will.

I remember when South Loop was built, neither white nor black, middle-class parents--some living right across the street from this brand new, well-equipped school--would send their kids to sit in desks next to "those kids" from the Hilliard Homes. They even protested the school's marquee because they didn't want potential property buyers to know that kids from the projects were coming into "their" neighborhood.

Our Small Schools Workshop spent some time at the school back in 1999 at the request of teachers and former principal Shirley Woodard. Our goal then was to help support teacher-led structural and curricular changes that would improve the school for the children WHO WERE THERE, as well as building a bridge between the Dearborn Park and Hilliard Homes communities. But when pressure groups in Dearborn Park demanded that the school be turned exclusively over to them, the mayor listened. The plan was dropped, Woodard was removed by Paul Vallas (she later won a battle in federal court over her firing) and the whole approach to reform changed to population shifting.

Ironically, now the school is overcrowded and the Board wants to send 6-8th graders over to National Teachers Academy in the Prairie District neighborhood a little farther south. But the parents in this Dearborn Park community are once again pressuring against the move and these are parents with some political clout. The Board backed off and Dearborn Park residents will instead, most likely get a brand new, selective enrollment high school for their kids built right in the neighborhood.

Too bad for the parents at Carver, whose kids were shipped over to Fenger. Too bad for the hundreds of other parents in communities across the city whose schools are being closed and whose children are being shipped all over at great risk. They don't have the same clout.


For background on the South Loop story see Ben Joravsky's 1999 account in The Reader and this Education Week story from 1987.


  1. A perfect model for Duncan's turnaround schools. Like New Orleans--replace the kids and boost the test scores.

  2. Half of the kids are not in gifted, actually less than a third are, get your facts straight and give credit where credit is due, to the teachers!!!!!


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