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Back to School: New LSCs at Amundsen and Chappell Preparing for September

By Patty Wetli | Friday, July 13, 2012

Amundsen's LSC meets to plan for 2012-13 school year. Credit: Patty Wetli

In just her sixth official day on the job, Anna Pavichevich, the new principal at Amundsen High School (5110 N. Damen Ave.), led her first meeting of the Local School Council this past Tuesday.

“It is my intention to be very transparent,” she said, and then made good on that promise in her report to the Council, highlighting a number of challenges facing Amundsen in the coming 2012-13 school year and outlining proposed strategies for engaging students, parents and the community.

One of the major changes affecting not only Amundsen but schools across CPS is implementation of a new teacher evaluation system. On the positive side, according to Pavichevich, the system establishes common evaluation standards, provides specific and concrete feedback, supports professional growth and development, and creates a culture of continuous improvement. The down side, she added, is that the process is extremely time consuming, meaning administrators will be devoting 65 to 75 percent of their work day to conducting evaluations, leaving scant opportunity to focus on other responsibilities.

To that end, Pavichevich plans to reorganize her administrative team to include positions that will directly support staff. In a difficult budget environment, assembling her dream team took some creative shuffling. “It involved about 20 chess moves to create those positions,” said Pavichevich, referring to: a school-based instructional coach tasked with professional development; a bona fide business manager to handle the school’s financials; and a data analyst to collect and share information relevant to student performance markers.

“People feel they’re doing a lot of great things but they don’t know if it’s working,” she said. The analyst will be able to provide concrete results, not just to teachers but to the community at large. “We’ll be opening the doors to the school and sharing what’s going on with everybody else.”

Another position, that of an at-risk coordinator, will address concerns about the school’s drop-out rate, low student attendance and college enrollment percentages that hover under 50 percent. “They’ll be finding those cohorts of kids before they drop out or don’t come to school,” she explained.

A number of these efforts are a direct response to conversations Pavichevich has held with approximately 50 of the school’s teachers since taking over the reins at Amundsen. Among the issues raised: the longer school day, which adds 46 minutes of instructional time four days a week. “It can be a good thing, or a disaster,” said Pavichevich. “One of my biggest priorities is professional development and constant support.”

With current LSC chair Sharon Jones absent from the meeting, the Council deferred electing new officers. They did set their meeting schedule for 2012-13, agreeing on the second Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. in the school’s library. The next meeting is set for August 14.

Chappell Elementary: With Success Comes Growing Pains

When Joseph Peila came on board as Chappell’s principal six years ago, the school was in very real danger of closing. “We had no applications for kindergarten,” he recalled at Wednesday’s first LSC meeting of the 2012-13 school year. Chappell (2135 W. Foster Ave.) was happy to take all comers, drawing students from both within its attendance boundaries and via lottery from around the city.

This year, the number of kindergarten applicants is close to 150 and Peila anticipates having to turn away nearly half, with increasingly fewer lottery slots available. For pre-k, the situation is exacerbated by a new CPS mandate that directs schools to give priority to at-risk students even over children within attendance boundaries. “We’re doing everything we can to accommodate as many people as we can,” said Peila, “but there are going to be some unhappy parents.”

Signs of the growth spurt are apparent in the construction taking place at the school over the summer. Chalkboards are being removed and replaced with whiteboards, landings are being extended for ADA compliance, bathrooms are being added and teachers will return to a new science lab.

In preparation for the longer school day, which calls for daily recess, Chappell’s playground is in the midst of an upgrade, including a new turf field. Peila has contracted with Playworks to help coordinate games and activities.

On the instructional side, he’s hired an art and music teacher, precisely the sort of enrichment programs many parents requested with the longer day. In grades k-2, students will alternate art, music, phys ed, library and Spanish; grades 3-8 will alternate art, music, phys ed, library, computer and Spanish.

The LSC will be tasked, in part, with increasing parental involvement. “We have so many people who want to help,” he said, but they don’t know how. One interesting program planned for the new school year: Teachers have volunteered to provide English instruction to Spanish-speaking parents and Spanish instruction to English speakers.

Elections were held for LSC officers: Brandee Tavano was unanimously selected for another term as chair, April Butz was voted vice chair, and Heidi Kafka was elected secretary. Meetings will be held the first Friday of the month at 4 p.m.; the next meeting is set for Sept. 14.

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