Jahn Elementary Leadership Touts New Programs And New Energy

By Mike Fourcher | Friday, August 26, 2011

Frederick Jahn Elementary School. Credit: Flickr/pjchmiel.

In recent years Friedrich Ludwig Jahn Elementary School, 3149 N. Wolcott Ave., has lacked the same visibility and community passion of Roscoe Village neighbors Bell and Audubon Elementaries. Some would say that it’s for good reason, since Bell and Audubon Schools are ranked by the Chicago Public School system as as “Excellent Standing” schools with above average performance in reading, math and science while Jahn is ranked “good standing” with above average performance in science and average performance in reading and math.

But Bell and Audubon were not always great schools and Audubon’s renaissance has only come in the last ten years leading many neighborhood parents to wonder when it would be Jahn’s turn to bloom.

In the past Jahn had been threatened with closure, but last year’s closure of neighboring George Schneider Elementary and the subsequent transfer of 40 of its 65 students to Jahn suggests that CPS isn’t going to be closing any more area schools soon.

Parents and staff we’ve talked to praise Jahn’s principal, Sulma Rodriguez Grigalunas, for creating a good learning environment, but the school lacks the resources and strong parent organizations that has made other area schools so strong. In a neighborhood with parents that can often afford to send their kids elsewhere if CPS doesn’t measure up, the school and its staff still have a great deal of work cut out for them.

Into this breech steps George Chipain, the school’s new assistant principal, who transfered this summer from running the math and science programs for CPS schools on Chicago’s north lakefront. Chipane, who also teaches education at DePaul University, called Roscoe View Journal this week to boast about a number of new programs the school is starting and to pass the message that he and Principal Grigalunas are pouring new energy into the school.

Roscoe View Journal: What new things are you doing this year?
Chipain: One of my biggest goals [as Assistant Principal] is to make Jahn reconnected with the local community again. There’s a number of new programs the school is bringing in. We’re doing an after school science club with Northwestern University on genetic medicine. We’ve added afterschool tutoring on math with Loyola University. We’ve created an aquatic biology program with the Shedd Aquarium for kindergarten through 5th grade. A zoo research collaborative with the Lincoln Park Zoo for middle grades. And a wellness program with Illinois Masonic Hospital.Our principal has done a great job creating a great teaching staff and a great climate for learning. But, I think there was a lot damage done between the school and the community before she got here.[Unfortunately] the community hasn’t really embraced the school. There’s a lot the school can offer to students.I’ve been working with Mary [Markarian] at the Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce, we’re working on getting to more parents who live in the community. We’re going to start getting a bubbling up approach as we have more to offer.

How many students do you project to enroll this year?
We’re looking at 440 students, about 40 preschool students. We’re not an under enrolled school. We have a pretty strong population. We’re fine on the enrollment, but we want to be a pillar of the community and more integrated with it.

How is the integration going with Schneider?
A number of those students went to other schools, so we’re basically looking at maybe 40 students at the most [out of 65 enrolled at Schneider last year] which is really not a lot.

It’s a very happy school environment at Jahn. We never really have discipline problems. I don’t see that integrating the two schools will be really any of a challenge at all. I’m looking to get the support [Schneider students] need to get to the level Jahn students are.

Have you brought any teachers and staff over from Schneider?
We got about four teachers, that was something we had no control over. A few of the teachers are really fantastic. One kindergarten teacher has her Ph.D from Loyola. I think she’s going to make a great fit. Our upper grade language arts teacher – I’ve talked with people who work with her, who were ready to write letters of recommendation, they like her so much. Unfortunately I don’t personally know the other teachers, we’ll see how that goes as the year goes on.

Jahn, and many other North Side elementary schools have enjoyed resurgences lately. Are there any lessons they can provide to high schools like Lake View, which has a new principal working to make changes?

It’s ironic that you brought that up because I just drove over there to meet with [Lake View principal Dr. Lilith Werner]. We’re a feeder school to Lake View, and I’m trying to establish a partnership with Northwestern, so they wanted a middle school and a high school. To me I thought Lake View would be an ideal fit.

Because of my previous job, I’m really good friends with most of the principals in this area. I knew the principal of Bell, Bob Gerstfeld very well before he retired. Principals at Waters, Blaine, Nettlehorst. Over the past five years I’ve gotten to know the various principals and the strategies they use for what works.

So what’s the strategy that works?
There has to be a reason [for students to] want to come here. It’s that simple. They’re not coming because you asked them or begged them. They come because parents want their kids to come.

It’s about having high quality teaching here and then communicating it. Then, you get one or two parent champions, get the word out and then it goes viral.

The one thing this part of the city has, because you have nice neighborhoods: it’s easier to attract good, quality talent, whether it’s teachers or administrators. This is the highest performing part of the city. Higher than the northwest side of the city, even thought they have higher socio-economic performance than the rest of the city.

I think that with the right amount of supports in place, we’ll catch fire as well. Then I’d like to get help on beautifying the school. Make sure the academics are in place and then work on the aesthetics of the school and to make it look good for parents.

Jahn Elementary is hosting open houses for new parents and students on Tuesday, August 30, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., and on Tuesday, September 13, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.

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