Real stories from R2010, part 2

R2010 isn’t a monolithic evil, despite what you might read here. Here’s the second of two stories.

Story #2: Harper High School turnaround

About a month ago, I visited Harper High school at the invitation of CPS HS Turnaround director Don Fraynd. Harper was turned around in the fall of 2008.

Missing students

Perhaps the most well-known aspect of Harper’s turnaround was the following report on WBEZ:

“Harper High School on the city’s south side is getting the most extreme fix
Chicago has for schools: a ‘turnaround.’ Eighty percent of the staff is
new. And the district has spent millions of extra dollars to improve Harper and raise academic performance. But if scores go up, it might be due to something else as well: 30 percent of Harper students are gone.” 

The Harper principal explained to WBEZ that Harper simply sent some students over to Robeson, Hyde Park HS, and some alternative schools. WBEZ reported that, while Harper’s enrollment was down about 400, Robeson’s was up about 150, leaving that school short several teachers at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year.

Fraynd claims that  the WBEZ story was unfair and that projected enrollment numbers were incorrect due to poor record keeping of the previous administration.

Still, the story was apparently convincing enough for CPS to prevent 2009 turnaround Fenger from trying the same tactic, and some are pointing to that difference as a cause for the recent violence there.  

Firing teachers

Harper was quiet the day of my visit. It was the week before school started and I saw a few incoming freshmen who were in the building for registration and orientation. 

Clearly, the school had a lot of new programs. Fraynd spoke eloquently of the students’ need for social services and mentoring, restorative discipline practices, and extra academic support. He has adequate staff to provide that individualized help. He showed me the beautiful, nearly-completed culinary arts facility on the fourth floor of the building. These are resources most parents would love to have at their children’s school.  

I asked Fraynd why it was necessary to fire all the staff — wouldn’t any school improve with extra personnel and brand spanking-new programs? He replied that he did not believe that the original staff was, essentially, trainable in the short time frame he felt he had to train them, that it was important to get people who arrived with skills that matched the new requirements. For example, the school’s social work staff comes from a different type of preparation program than the usual folks CPS assigns to those positions. 

I just don’t buy it.

Maybe you gain certain skill sets with certain of your new hires. But you lose huge piles of human capital in the form of interpersonal relationships already in place, not just with students but with families and the community. And, of course, some of the fired staff were likely also very good.

And it’s just impossible for me to believe that the mostly inexperienced new staff have that much more to offer, or that there’s a chance that they will provide stability. The new staffers under R2010 are notoriously short-timers.

So, wouldn’t it be a better investment to spend your gobs of R2010 money bringing your experienced staff up to speed with whatever improved strategies you want to implement? Then you get the best of both worlds, you don’t have to ruin the lives of hundreds of dedicated professionals, and you offer a better. safer environment for students.

LSC list

Since even CPS agrees that CPS-run turnaround schools must have a real LSC, I asked for a list of Harper’s LSC members and the LSC meeting schedule. Unlike many neighborhood schools, the Harper office provided this to me without any grumbling.  

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.