Reforms Move through U-46 with the Help of a Federal Program, Schools across District Aim to Boost Student Achievement
Johnson, Anna, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Anna Johnson Daily Herald Staff Writer
Though it was Saturday, teachers at Channing Memorial Elementary School arrived just before 8 a.m., got out of their cars and walked into the school.
Unlike school days, students didn't follow.
In fact, Channing teachers and administrators spent several Saturdays over the past few months alone in the building, working.
As part of a federally funded initiative, the Elgin school began implementing a movement first talked about years ago - Comprehensive School Reform.
Defined by the not-for-profit education organization New American Schools, the program is a systematic approach to reorganizing and revitalizing a whole school, as opposed to implementing individual programs piecemeal.
Schools throughout Elgin Area School District U-46 are at different stages of school reform. Some, like Channing, have already adopted a research-based reform program, while others are still investigating possibilities and a few have not yet begun the process.
In total, about 30 are at some point in the school reform process. Several more will begin actual implementation in the fall.
Once a school studies its needs and either develops its own or approves a custom-made reform model, it can begin receiving federal school reform grant money, which lasts up to three years.
For many schools such as Channing that have less than half or just over half of their students meeting state standards, Comprehensive School Reform is seen as part of the answer to improving student achievement.
But in order to make school reform a success, there has to be 100 percent commitment from all factions of a school - its teachers, administrators, support staff, students, parents and the surrounding community, officials say.
At Channing, that commitment, at least from the school, appears to be there.
In the fall, Channing was one of nine U-46 schools placed on the state's academic early warning list because less than half of its students met state standards for two consecutive years on the Illinois State Achievement Exam.
During the 1999-00 school year, 30 percent met the mark, and during the 2000-01 year, almost 39 percent did.
In addition, about 88 percent of Channing's students come from low-income households, 41 percent move in and out of the school each year, and 50 percent have limited English-speaking skills.
These challenges were nothing new to Channing. Even before it was placed on the warning list, it had initiated school reform, and about a year ago, it chose a reform process called Modern Red Schoolhouse.
"We were already doing a lot of positive things at Channing," teacher Meghan Doyle said. "But we are looking to make it better."
A large part of Modern Red, one of several reform models schools can choose from, focuses on professional growth and creating curriculum around state standards.
This is exactly why Channing teachers spent several Saturdays, which are paid for as part of the $50,000-per-year reform grant, at school this year. These non-teaching days have allowed all of Channing's teachers to work together not only by grade but across grade levels.
Much of the professional growth and planning time this year was spent analyzing social studies. At first, teachers took a look at what the state expects students in each grade level to know about social studies, and then they reviewed grade-level lessons to see if they matched state expectations. When they didn't, the teachers made changes.
For example, several social science questions on the seventh- grade ISAT focus on U.S. history.
But Channing sixth-grade teachers Cathy Melahn and Diana Cornelissen said they had always taught world history in sixth grade.
After speaking with teachers at Ellis Middle School, which Channing students attend when they are seventh-graders, Melahn and Cornelissen rearranged their focus. …