Today hundreds--maybe thousands--of Chicago Public high school students will begin their classes without permanent teachers. It's a problem that undermines district efforts to improve failing high schools. CEO Ron Huberman promises improvements.
DONZELL: People had to stand up. People was on the floor writing, it was that packed.
Every year, the district predicts how many students will show up to each of its schools. And it assigns teachers based on that prediction.
Then, the kids arrive.
At Julian, 240 extra students showed up--the school was short 8 teachers. It was a similar story at
Principals and teachers are also frustrated.
SHARKEY: It's really hard in the beginning of the year to establish the right kind of rapport with kids when your class is bursting at the seams.
Enrollment can change dramatically--both up and down--at neighborhood high schools at the beginning of the year. So CPS traditionally waits until the 20th day of school for an official head count, then authorizes schools to hire more teachers.
It's partly about money. Interim budget director Christina Herzog:
HERZOG: When we're as tight as we are, every dollar does count, so we like to be as precise as possible, and as responsible as possible financially.
It's also about fairness, district leaders say. They can't give a school a greater allotment of teachers when the students aren't there.
But last year, CPS had to round up 78 teachers weeks into the school year because its projections were off. Officials admit they underestimated enrollment by at least 50 kids at 19 high schools. That said, Ron Huberman promises kids won't lose weeks of instruction this year. This is his first September as head of CPS.
HUBERMAN: We're going to authorize adding teachers within the first week of school where we see additional enrollment, which we believe will help solve a significant part of this problem.
The district looks at past enrollment trends to predict a school's future enrollment.
DISPENSA I'm Jimm Dispensa. I'm responsible for projecting all schools' enrollments, every year.
It sounds crazy, but
Some think the solution lies in the distirct's magnet school model, where Dispensa's projections are almost always spot on. That's because kids apply there, and enroll early.
DISPENSA: We need to find ways to engage communities and families particularly at the neighborhood high schools, so that we know up front in the spring how many students are projected or registered to go to a given neighborhood high school.
That's what many other large urban districts do.
Robeson last year had extra money and staff to keep freshmen engaged in school--but many ninth graders didn't even have teachers…. they weren't engaged at all.
Clarice Berry is head of the principal's association.
Donzell Chester, the kid who found himself in an algebra class of 62 kids at Julian, has to repeat algebra this year.
DONZELL: Only three or four people passed. They were the smart ones who were able to focus. Everybody else flunked the first semester.
Today, CPS is deploying teams of long-term substitutes to some 20 schools it thinks might get extra kids. Huberman says principals who think they'll be hit should have potential hires lined up. But it's not a good time of year to be hiring. Most believe the best teachers have already been snatched up.
|High School||Projected Enrollment for 2008-09||Actual Enrollment 2008-09||Difference||Number of Teachers Needed*|
|*estimated, based on 28 students per class|