Dewey Academy of the Fine Arts is located in the New City community area, ranked number seven out of 77 on a socioeconomic hardship index. The poverty rate in New City is 30%, and per capita income is less than $13,000 a year, less than half the Chicago average.
CPS plans to “turnaround” Dewey at the end of the current school year in order to improve its academic performance by firing all its principal, faculty, and staff, and turning its management over to the private school management non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). (AUSL’s former director of finances, Tim Cawley, is currently the Chief Administrative Officer of CPS, part of the team making decisions about schools closings and turnaround.) According to the Chicago Tribune:
“Most of AUSL turnarounds score below CPS averages on the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state benchmarks on standardized testing. Those schools that beat district averages have been accused of pushing out their lowest-performing students or those with discipline problems to artificially inflate their test scores.”
In fact, Dewey’s test scores have already been on an upward trend over the past three years, coinciding with the arrival of their new principal at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. And the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research rates it “moderately organized” for improvement based on the 5 Essentials. In the 2011-2012 school year, the percent of Dewey students’ meeting growth goals on standardized test results was firmly above their network average in reading and math.
According to Matthew Johnson, chair of the Local School Council and alum, Dewey has been the cornerstone of its community for well over a hundred years. Although CPS classifies Dewey as underutilized, Dewey has six classrooms in the Child Parent Center, which supports students ages 3-9, and five special education classrooms. They use three classrooms for after school activities, and the school has made an effort to keep class sizes small. They have before, after, and Saturday school programs.
Dewey has been part of the Communities in Schools Chicago that provides services to families and the surrounding neighborhood for almost twelve years. Dewey is a site for the Children’s Research Triangle Trauma Treatment Program, which “fill the tremendous gap in necessary trauma-focused mental health services at […] inner-city schools.” Dewey also has a partnership with Chicago Cares. Countless parent programs are offered through both the elementary building and Dewey’s Child Parent Center, including G.E.D. classes, ECE Literacy classes, Positive Behavior classes, etc.
As a Fine and Performing Arts Magnet Cluster School, Dewey is dedicated to providing a rich arts education for all students. Funds are designated to support two experienced, full-time teachers in both music and visual arts. The Magnet Cluster Lead Teacher serves as an arts liaison, bringing additional arts opportunities and resources to the school. They have developed committed long term partnerships with Barrel of Monkeys (an arts education theater ensemble), May I Have This Dance, Changing Worlds, Adobe Youth Voices, the Intonation Music Workshop, the Smart Museum of Art, and the Loyola University Museum of Art (culminating in an exhibit of student artwork). Dewey teachers have contributed an interactive lesson plan to the University of Chicago Smart Museum of Art online k-12 site.
“The monetary value of these donated programs, services, professional development, transportation and materials is around $50,000 annually. The value to our students is priceless.” –Dewey art teacher
Although CPS claims that schools where they are implementing a so-called turnaround require “building upgrades that aid in the program’s goal of creating an entirely new culture of success at the school,” including IT upgrades, Dewey has made a concerted effort to invest in its IT resources. It is in the process of becoming SMART certified. Full-day PreK and kindergarten classrooms have SMARTboards with a plan to add more each year. Half-day PreK has a SMART table. Classrooms from PreK-8th have ipods or ipads and a new computer lab.
Dewey’s Child Parent Center was one of the first in the US, established thirty years ago. Although Child Parent Centers have suffered from funding cuts and closures in recent years, according to the Ericson Institute:
“Research shows that children who attend Child-Parent Center programs have greater success in school and beyond, including significantly lower high school dropout rates, fewer arrests and convictions, and higher income following high school. Comparing the costs of the program to its impacts, the centers show an impressive long-term return on investment: $8 to $11 per dollar invested.”
Jessica Smith, M.Ed., Erickson Institute, head teacher at the CPC, has been a teacher at Dewey for 18 years:
“Child-Parent Centers forge a strong connection between home and school. We welcome parents into the classroom as active participants in their children’s education. It’s an opportunity for parents to grow right here in school and support their children.” —Jessica Smith
The CPC at Dewey is part of a $15 million, five year grant program to expand the Child Parent Center program. At Dewey, the grant will support the implementation of an innovative professional development model for teachers:
“This is a totally new way of receiving professional development, but we have high expectations given Erikson’s early childhood expertise. Over the next several years, Erikson will be a driving force for our content- and curriculum-based training.” —Jessica Smith
In 2011, Dewey was one of two CPS schools chosen after careful vetting to be part of a three-year, $750,000 Safe Schools Pilot Project run by Mental Health America of Illinois. According to Caryn Curry, director of prevention at MHAI, the project will work on “safety, security, mental, socioemotional health and development of a student body.” Curry says the program “is not just a building initiative. It is a community initiative.”
Dewey teachers have raised thousands of dollars for projects in their classrooms with Donors Choose since 2007, most of that in the last two years.
At a hearing in February, parents repeatedly expressed their admiration for the dedication and skills of Dewey’s teaching staff and principal:
“We have some teachers that don’t leave that school until 6:00 or 7:00 o’clock at night.” –Felix Jackson, graduate of Dewey and parent of a current student
“My daughter, when she first came, before we realized, she needed the services. She would be shy. She would not stand up in front of another class. She wouldn’t say anything. My son was the same way. But now my daughter would stand in front of the class, and she will read to them and let them know, let the class know we can do this. My son is the same way. He’s excited about school. He gets up and runs out of the house to get to school.” —Dewey parent of two special education students
“This is my daughter Ashley. She is in fourth grade. She is in fourth grade and ten years old. She’s been on the honor roll all the time in school. She scores in the 97 percentile in reading, she scores an 87 percentile in math and a 94 percentile in science. I want my son, who’s in the program to be able to experience the teachings that my daughter has received.”–Dewey parent
“I am proud, and I will say proud, teacher at Dewey Elementary School. I will say this. I chose to come to Dewey because of our principal.”–Ms. Foban, Dewey teacher
Although the students will not be displaced by the turnaround, it will sever their relationships with faculty and staff:
“[It is] hard for the little ones to wrap their head around. They’re firing all the staff, even non-teachers like janitors, cafeteria staff. I think it’s a real loss for the kids, all of these stable adults they’ve known for years will no longer be here for them.” —Dewey teacher
In addition, Dewey has a relatively large number of homeless students, 57:
“All students are harmed by this chaos and destabilization and students who are homeless are particularly vulnerable to harm. The very cornerstone of homeless education law and policy is to provide stability in education to students who lack stable housing.”–Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
One Teacher’s Perspective
Dewey is the first of four schools I have taught in that I have felt completely at home. It has been the most supportive environment I have ever taught in. Students are nurtured and cared for. We expect excellence from them every day.
Dewey has many unique things going for it. Its Child Parent Center is amazing. Four PreK teachers who work collaboratively and support each other is not easy to find anywhere. These teachers also work hand in hand with the kindergarten teachers in order to make sure students are prepared for what’s to come. Child Parent Centers show results only second to Tuition-Based Programs in CPS. They show higher results than both Headstart and Preschool for All programs within CPS. (CPCs are part of a research grant that will lose ground with all the the upheaval around most schools that carry CPCs.)
Not only does Dewey Child Parent Center have a talented teaching team. They are led and supported by an incredible administration team. Jessica Smith, the Head Teacher, has been at Dewey for over 18 years. She is dedicated to making Dewey a calm, nurturing place to learn. She supports teachers in every way from curricular planning, discipline support, or simply management of materials to make sure students have everything they need. She also enrolls new students and all the work to follows. It’s crazy to think Headstart and Preschool for All teachers do all the administrative work. I love that at Dewey, PreK teachers’ main job is to teach!
The most difficult job I know belongs to our Parent Resource Teacher, Willie Mae Rodgers, who supports teachers and parents to work together to give parents and students skills needed for learning, not to mention, the Child Parent Center Clerk, Part time Community School Rep who contacts and supports parents and teachers, as well as retired Dewey teachers who come to volunteer at the Center on a regular basis.
There are so many wonderful parts to my experience at Dewey this year, I can not even list them all: a Halloween carnival run by parents, monthly field trips organized by Mrs. Rodgers, and our Science Partnership with PNC Grow up Great Program. We have a school environment that addresses families’ needs in the area, serves to nurture and foster lifelong learning. It would be sad to lose our community that we have built up.