As the excitement settled following last week’s announcement of Lake View High School, 4015 N. Ashland Ave., as one of five newly-designated STEM schools, questions began to surface. How does my student apply? What’s the curriculum? Will my kid be high school for six years? These and a host of other issues were raised and addressed at a community meeting held March 7 at Lake View, led by Principal Lilith Werner and Leslie Boozer, CPS chief of schools North/Northwest.
“Rigorous” and “neighborhood” were the buzz words of the night, as in a rigorous curriculum designed to make Lake View a viable option for neighborhood families.
“STEM is absolutely college preparatory material,” Werner told the crowd of nearly 100 parents and students who filled the high school’s auditorium. “Students are going to gain all these valuable 21st Century skills.”
At the same time, STEM’s stated emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math does not trump CPS requirements. Yes, there will be courses in web design and software development but students will still be expected to earn credits in English, foreign language, history and other core subjects. Lake View will maintain its strong arts tradition, Werner promised, with the additional opportunities that STEM presents, such as classes in mixed media art or digital music.
“The program is about more than just IT [information technology],” stated Boozer. “You don’t have to want to be a software programmer to come here.”
Wording on CPS’ website, which referred to a six-year time frame associated with STEM, was also clarified. “This is still a four-year high school, with the possibility to earn two years of college credit while still in high school,” said Werner. “There won’t be 24-year-olds here with 15-year-olds.”
As outlined at the meeting, the enrollment/application process is fairly straightforward. There are 400 available slots for incoming freshmen, with neighborhood students receiving first dibs. “Neighborhood residents are guaranteed a seat. If you live in the neighborhood, you’re already accepted,” Werner said.
“This is not selective enrollment,” added Boozer. “You don’t have to compete. Lake View is still a neighborhood high school, it’s just that your neighborhood school is a STEM school.” Students applying from outside Lake View’s attendance boundaries (check the CPS school locator) will be placed on a wait list, with one caveat: Any students who have already applied and been accepted for next year are still accepted.
Every member of the 2012-13 freshman class will be automatically enrolled in STEM. “You don’t need to register [for STEM],” Werner explained. “There is no opt out.” Current Lake View students are not eligible for STEM; next year’s sophomores, juniors and seniors will continue with their existing non-STEM coursework.
As part of the STEM program, Microsoft was announced as Lake View’s corporate partner, viewed by many as a major draw. Mostly. Reading from a stack of submitted questions, Werner came across, “Will we still have Macs?”
“Yes, we’ll have Mac labs,” she responded, “though I imagine we’ll be getting some PCs.”
Though the specifics of the tech giant’s involvement have yet to be determined, Shelley Stern, Microsoft community affairs director/Midwest district, was on hand to offer a glimpse of what the company can provide students.
In addition to job shadowing, mentoring and tutoring, “we have a program called IT Academy,” she said, which provides technical certification. DreamSpark is a software development tool that will be offered free to any student and DigiGirlz is designed to encourage more young women to pursue careers in technology.
“These are just some of the things we have right now off the shelf,” said Stern. Her role is to encourage her colleagues to “channel their energies toward Lake View.”
Having made its pitch, Lake View now waits to see whether STEM is the kind of change parents had in mind when they approached Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) three years ago. “They said, ‘We’d like to improve Lake View High School. What can you do to help us?’”
Of particular concern to Waguespack and his colleagues Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), former Ald. Eugene Schulter and his successor Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th): Only 30 percent of Lake View students come from within the school’s attendance boundaries. Families with sixth-, seventh- and eight-graders were fleeing the city, according to Waguespack. “They’d say, ‘I can’t send my kid to Lake View.’”
Having successfully altered the academic environment and reputation of various elementary schools in their wards, Waguespack and Tunney worked with Lake View parents, the Local School Council, and the school’s leadership team to move the high school forward. The STEM announcement marks the culmination of their efforts, the “premier programming” needed to convince the broader community that Lake View deserves a second look.
Last August, Principal Werner told RVJ: “Some parents are going to have to take the plunge, make a leap of faith. There have to be some brave local parents.”
Tunney echoed that statement at Wednesday night’s information session. “This is going to require a little risk taking,” he said. “We’ve got to have that pioneer group here.”
Though the aldermen pledged ongoing support for Lake View, their message was clear: They’ve held up their end of the bargain, now it’s parents and students turn to determine Lake View’s direction. “This presents a lot of opportunities for us,” said Waguespack. “But only if parents continue to push and students step up. It’s up to you to take this to the next level.”