Nicholson is scheduled as a receiving school for Bontemps. In 2008 Nicholson was on probation, but today, after four short years they are a Level One school with impressive stats to match. Overall meet-exceed percentages on the ISAT in 2012 were 73% in reading, 91% in math, 83% in science. Their performance is one of the best in the city when demographic factors are taken into account.

Jennifer Sanks Ross has been at Nicholson for seven years and teaches math to eighth graders. This year they scored 97% on ISAT math:

“Most of our students will go to magnet or specialty schools. They never leave us—-they come back frequently to let us know how they’re doing and to get support.”

Obviously, there are many factors that went into accomplishing this increase. Most important among them has to be the fact that the average class size at Nicholson is 15. This has made it possible to work with students and give them the attention they need. Nicholson currently has 469 students and Bontemps 314. Bontemps is a Level 3 school. CPS figures the Nicholson building can accommodate 930 students. Of course, that would make for vastly increased class sizes.

Parents and teachers at Nicholson are worried about the impact of these changes. They worry about increased class sizes and lack of adequate resources. They worry how the new students will adapt and fear that there will be conflict between the two groups.

I fear teachers will not be able to teach to keep the students at Level One because the classes will be overcrowded. No way will students be able to get the one on one that has made it possible for our current excellent results. Parents are very wary of the new kids. We feel vulnerable. We fear that old gang issues will be activated. But I know the Bontemps parents must feel the same. I hope we will have time to get united before the beginning of school in the fall. –Javahana Borden, parent of six kids at Nicholson including triplets in kindergarten

There has been a rivalry between the two schools from basketball games. When one team loses, they start a fight. Now Bontemps children will have to walk five or six blocks and pass through areas of serious gang activity particularly at Racine and 60th St. Parents might have to take off work to walk students to school or get them on a bus.

Bontemps is more than .8 miles away. This is the length at which busing should kick in. Busing will be available for current students of Bontemps, but not to future students who will be assigned to Nicholson from old attendance areas.

“Nicholson has maintained a no nonsense approach, but with that there is always love and compassion. I attribute the successes of Nicholson to the cohesiveness of the staff and to the teachers who are dedicated to their job. They are available to the kids AM and PM. When students are absent, they walk to the home to find out what they can do. Sometimes they need warm clothing, or there are other issues. We have been able to nip bullying in the bud.

I am leery now for the future because new students will not be familiar with our rigorous structure and will be challenging. I feel if the parents support the schools’ goal and our teachers, we should be OK.

This year the fifth grade classes increased to 30. Children came in from low performing schools. When they couldn’t compete, they became negative. But we have been able to work with these students now.” –Brenda Young, Head Start (formerly special education) teacher at Nicholson

Patricia Robinson is an LSC chair and parent organizer. She is hopeful the change will go smoothly, but apprehensive about Nicholson as a receiving school and worried about Bontemps students traveling further to get to school:

“I hope everything goes well, and we can keep our Level 1 status with the new students coming in. Children are children, and they’re going to be children, so it’s up to the teachers and the staff and the parents to keep them afloat. I am hopeful that we will all come together before the end of the year and unite as one. We need to get to know each other. I know it’s not going to be easy, but I hope we can bring the children here before school closes in June so they can see what they think of us. I think these “walks” that schools have started are good. I love that these parents have gotten up the initiative to do this. They had to walk over all kinds of drug paraphernalia and bricks and stuff that could be used for fighting. So that walk was very educational for parents, for students, teachers, and for the clergymen who want to claim that this is going to be ok.”

There is also concern that the additional resources and support CPS says they’ll provide for the coming year won’t be maintained in the future. (For example, CPS has said they will spend $676,000 per school for additional security personnel, police support, and safety programs.)

“Children’s Home and Aid sponsors a group called Safe Passage. They hire men in Englewood to walk the kids to and from school. Though most get paid, some just volunteer their services. I feel the school will need additional supportive services including assistants in each class to help with the overload. But then that costs money—will CPS give us that?” –community member in West Englewood

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Post author: Paula Baron


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