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New STEM Program at Lake View High School Continues to Drive Optimism

By Meryl Williams | Friday, October 19, 2012

Jennifer Sutton, Lake View High School’s early college STEM program manager, gives an update to the Local School Council at a meeting Oct. 17. Credit: Meryl Williams

Enthusiasm and optimism for the future is growing among Lake View High School leadership as the school plans to add five new laboratory study rooms by the beginning of next school year, expanding its new early college Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) program.

At a Local School Council meeting Wednesday night, Principal Dr. Lilith Werner announced that five of largest rooms at the school, 4015 N. Ashland Ave., would be converted into three computer labs and two new science labs.

The three new IT computer labs will each correspond to one of the three pathways the STEM program offers: information technology, arts and humanities. The two new STEM science labs will be designed to encourage students to do more hands-on, team-based lab work, with more room to move around.

“[Chicago Public Schools] Facilities [officials] came out multiple times to decide where to place the labs,” said Werner. “The configuration will be computers and kids in rows; it will be collaborative.”

She added that Lake View has, “odd classroom sizes,” and that the some STEM labs had to be stacked on top of one another, as they will be in rooms 105, 205, and 305.

She said there are additional plans to renovate the school’s currently unused fifth floor, which is currently configured as one large room.

“We’re hoping to build a new stairwell up to it and have a new classroom there,” she said.

Werner said that Lake View’s recent exposure in the media may benefit them in terms of other necessary upkeep. The school just had an elevator installed to become ADA-compliant, and it is almost complete.

“Downtown knows [Lake View HS] is in the spotlight, so we may be able to get other renovations done as well,” she said.

The planned labs were made possible due to a diversion of $2 million of city Tax Increment Financing funding to the STEM program last spring.

Lakeview was also announced as one of CPS’s five early college STEM schools this past spring. Partnerships with both Microsoft and DePaul University have sprung from this, although memorandums of understanding between those entities and CPS, which will spell out the specifics of those partnerships, are still in the works.

The program is currently only available to this year’s freshman class, but it will become school-wide as the program continues. Ultimately, juniors and seniors in STEM will have an opportunity to get college credit through the school’s partnership with DePaul. Either Lake View teachers will become dual-certified to teach courses that double as high school and college classes, or students will attend classes at DePaul, said Werner.

All of this year’s freshmen, more than 350 students, are enrolled in in the new honors-level Exploring Computer Science class, which is only offered to those in STEM. However, a new computer science department, including three new faculty members, is available and offers other digital media classes for all grades.

“The freshman [students] entering this year did not know at the time they were accepted that Lake View would be a STEM school,” said Jennifer Sutton, Lake View’s early college STEM program manager. “But, they are seeing benefits of it. It really set the tone for our freshman students around this…We want to encourage a culture where students are motivated to do well so they can be more responsible and independent.”

Werner said Lake View is making sure the school’s roots are not forgotten, and said it is in no way strictly an IT school.

“We’re building on great traditions already at Lake View,” she said. “We still honor our rich tradition in the visual and performing arts, and in humanities. We’re very special out of the five STEM schools because we are able to negotiate with [CPS] downtown, and let them understand we have students who want choice.”

LSC teacher representative Felicia Carparelli, a librarian at the school, hopes to see signs that the skills students learn in their new pathways carry over into all facets of their educations.

“I want to see if they will carry over [their new skills] into their library,” she said. “I think we’ll see more sophisticated research skills, leading to long-lasting literature skills. Every area should benefit, and especially their writing skills.”

Lake View is making improvements in other areas as well; the school made the third-most gains out of all CPS high schools on the PSAE and ACT test scores, as of tests taken in April of this year. The school was number one on the north and northwest side network in terms of gains made on the PSAE. Lakeview’s scores went up by 9.5 points on the PSAE, and nearly a full point on the ACT.

Additionally, the high school was named #8 in the U.S. on Microsoft’s list of the 99 most innovative schools worldwide. The list contains schools from 51 countries.

Werner said last year, her first at the helm, was about getting used to change. This year is about seeing the benefits of that change.

“Last year the school experienced a change in leadership, and that first year was all about building relationships and getting to know each other and learn more about the school culture,” said Werner. “I went from being a colleague to leader of the school. I tried to learn how to become effective as leader. Now, they can see the things I put into place are working.”

Werner said last year she implemented institutional rounds, a concept based on medical rounds, where staff and administrators go into classrooms and observe the level of engagement in students. This year, this program will be completely owned by staff, not administrators, Werner said, saying teachers work best when they take initiative and follow their personal passions.

Student shadowing also started last year, where teachers follow students based on their performance levels for several class periods to get a better understanding of students’ perspectives. Consultations between staff and administrators on the most recent data compiled from these practices are conducted every five weeks.

“These things make us deliberate and reflective about our practice,” said Werner. “We want student achievement to be our main goal.”

Werner is confident in Lake View’s ability to overcome its past reputation and become a star school.

“Lake View is poised for greatness,” she said. “I have a really awesome staff. We’re going to take off like no one expected. Parents, get your applications in by December 14!”

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