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Chicago Talent Development High School, facing successive years of decreased funding, to end operations in July of 2014
Chicago Talent Development High School, a unique high school that graduated its first class in the spring of 2013 will end operations in the spring of 2014, after five years of operation.
“While we are deeply saddened and frustrated to be forced to make this decision,” said Marv Hoffman, board member of Chicago Talent Development Charter High School (CTDHS), “we realize it’s the responsible thing to do.” In CTDHS’s short history, the school has faced two critical challenges: an effective 15% reduction in its funding and the lack of a permanent home, forcing it to occupy three different buildings in just four years. The CTHDS board, in its meeting on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, made the decision to not accept 9th- graders for the 2013-2014 school year and to end operations June 2014. The board’s decision was driven by those two challenges: another year of funding cuts and the school’s current and projected low enrollment due to transience of the school.
The concept for CTDHS was developed by Talent Development Secondary (TDS), Johns Hopkins University, in response to the CPS’ Renaissance 2010 initiative for new schools. With facilitation from CPS, TDS then partnered with representatives from the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other education professionals to create CTDHS. The school opened in the fall of 2009 as a contract school, accepting its first freshman students for the class of 2013. The following school year, 2010-2011, it became a charter school.
CTDHS is organized around two key themes: 1) serving students performing below grade level to get them college-ready by graduation through the Talent Development/Diplomas Now model developed by Johns Hopkins University and 2) partnering with IFT and SEIU to create a new model of a teacher's union contract—one that seeks to protect the profession of teaching without constraining the school from making decisions that benefit student learning. CTDHS has been a student-centered school, delivering highly targeted instruction and supporting all students in a firm and supportive climate. It accomplished this while also providing teachers with opportunities for collaborative support and advancement not ordinarily seen in city schools. Contrary to the perception that charter schools serve smaller proportions of special education and chronically low-performing students, CTDHS focused squarely on those students, with 98% of its students qualifying as low income and greater than 25% of students listed as special education.
The 56 seniors of CTDHS’s inaugural class graduated on June 8, 2013. They had weathered an unusual string of challenges during their four years, including two school relocations. The first CTDHS senior class achieved a graduation rate exceeding 90% and a 72% acceptance rate into four-year colleges
Facility Uncertainty and Constant Transition
CTDHS is a study in what can happen to a new school when there is no long-term facility plan. Selected to serve in West Garfield Park on the city’s West Side in 2008, CTDHS was unable to secure a permanent space in a school building for three consecutive years. The school spent its first year sharing space with Tilton Elementary and moved the next year into the old St. Mel's Elementary School three blocks away. This was again a temporary solution, as the building could house only 250 students and had no gymnasium, assembly space, or school grounds—not even a parking lot.
"It was a hard sell from the beginning to get 8th- graders and their parents to come to a new high school in an ill-equipped elementary school with no concrete home for the future," Kirby Callam, Union Park High Schools (UPHS) CEO, said, “The market is tough: we are one of 25 high schools serving the Austin, North Lawndale, and Garfield Park communities—up from 12 high schools just 20 years ago—at a time when the West Side lost 10 percent of its population. We could have directed more funds toward marketing, but we prioritized our small class size and wrap-around student supports instead.”
For its fourth year, CPS offered CTDHS space in Crane Technical Preparatory High School, 25 blocks to the east. The transition was smooth because both schools worked closely to create a cohesive school environment and combined student bodies for athletics and some after-school programs. Chicago Talent students showed their commitment to both the school and their education with 94 percent of them staying enrolled and travelling across numerous gang lines to get to the new location.
Shrinking Available Funds
For the 2012-2013 school year, Chicago Talent suffered a 6 percent net per-pupil funding decrease. This year’s new funding formula hit the school particularly hard. Funding decreased by 7 percent—the highest in the city—with a net 15 percent decrease since the school opened its first set of doors four years ago. The formula shifted funds away from high schools by weighting elementary schools higher than previous years, assigned charter schools an added 10.6 percent pension expense for certified staff and reduced funds provided for special education populations.
“We’re so proud of their resiliency and success,” declared Bernina Norton, principal, “and grateful to the dedicated teachers and staff who supported them to excel. We are committed to each remaining student and will work with them and their families over the course of the next year to ensure a successful transfer for the 2014-15 school year.”