Year 1: Marshall High School on the right track

When we talk about low-performing schools, the level of performance can vary, but what does “persistently low-performing” really look like? In 2010, only 4.9% of students met or exceeded state standards in reading, 1.6% in math, and 1.6% in science at Marshall High School in Chicago. The graduation rate was just barely above 30% and less than half of those who graduated attend college. AP classes were not offered and attendance was just above 50%.

Last year, Marshall received a federal School Improvement Grant and the Office of School Improvement at CPS was tasked with transforming the school. As the school year closes, attendance jumped over 20%, students feel safe at school and that teachers care about them, discipline is strictly enforced, and the general culture of the school had drastically shifted.

Many practices and policies were altered, additional curriculum coaches and support staff added, rules enforced, the majority of the teaching staff changed, a carve out office within CPS guides and monitors the effort, and the new principal runs a tight ship within and outside the school walls.

In the past, any one of these strategies could have been considered an improvement strategy. Today, we recognize that all of these things must occur simultaneously. Fixing a broken school is like rebuilding a community after a hurricane. You don’t just rebuild a few houses, but you have to repair the roads, establish water and electricity, bring in supplies, establish leadership and a sense of community, and then bring the residents back.

While the results of this year’s state tests aren’t known yet, it’s likely that they’ve improved a bit, but that they haven’t “turned around.” Year 1 of an improvement effort sets the tone for change and establishes a culture of continuous improvement. Academic performance should improve more drastically in years 2, 3 and beyond.

Now that Marshall is on the right path, CPS must keep the new staff and revised policies in place, provide the school the freedom to make decisions as the needs in the field change, and continue to support the improvements as they happen.

Sources: A student at Marshall High School [who is graduating and was accepted to multiple 4-year colleges (with scholarships)], Noreen Ahmed-Ulah’s May 24, 2010 Chicago Tribune article, “Marshall High principal leading dramatic turnaround of school,” CPS School Profile.  


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