Focalpoint Spring/Summer 2008

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FocalPoint is a magazine published by the Chicago International Charter School. This magazine was launched as a place where educators and administrators who are working to confront the status quo, will describe the successes and challenges of educating students in urban America.


  • FocalPointRespected. Refined. Realized.

    VOL. 01 NUM. 2SPRING/SUMMER 2008

    A Chicago International Charter School Publication

    Teacher Roderick Lewis Offers Lessons in Drama and Life

    Irving Park Families Embrace School Mission CICS Wrightwood Discovers Young Authors

    Good Neighbors

    What CICS Learned From its Critics-Turned-Advocates

  • OpeningThoughts


    Beth Purvis Executive Director Chicago International Charter School

    Much has been written over the past 20 years about school reform efforts. One of the most interesting descriptions of the goals of school reform was written by Marsha Levine in a 1992 book entitled Professional practice schools: Linking teacher education and school reform. In the introduction to this edited volume, she writes:

    Restructured schools are defined by a fundamentally different conception of both teaching and learning. Where traditional schools are structured to support a rather passive kind of learning in which knowledge is transferred from teacher to student, learning in restructured schools is defined as an active process in which the learner constructs meaning out of experience (p. 1).

    What strikes me about this statement is how few urban schools include students as active participants in their own learning. Even more compelling is how few schools actively engage the students communities in the construction of the school experience.

    In this second edition of FocalPoint, we share with you examples of how Chicago International actively engages students and community members to create meaningful experiences inside and outside of the classroom. In this edition youll learn of students who write their own books; a teacher who uses drama as a literacy, social justice, and counseling tool; neighbors who ensured that the new high school would integrate into the community, not take it over; a lunch provider who improved the health and well-being of the students and staff; and a group of families who embrace the school mission as their own. We know that these out-of-school and enrichment activities are largely responsible for our success because they ensure a positive, engaging environment for children outside of the academic curriculum. The authenticity of the experiences comes from the fact that each program was developed by students, parents, teachers, and concerned community members, so they reflect a real interest or need, not a perceived interest or need.

    What is most notable about these stories is that they should be commonplace. None of the achievements described has required large sums of money, great feats of organization, or the challenge of enlisting the masses. Examples of each can be found in other schools, districts, and cities. Were FocalPoint the publication of a middle class suburban district, the stories might be considered mundane; yet in inner-city urban education, these stories are noteworthy, special, and even heroic.

    As you read the second edition of FocalPoint, I invite you to help us to determine how to replicate these programs within our own network and for other groups like ours. I encourage you to write to me at with your thoughts or responses to these or other issues. Thank you for sharing your time with us.

    Dr. Elizabeth D. Purvis Executive Director

    02 | FocalPoint

  • contentsfeatures07 Family Ties

    At this CICS campus, the schools success is tied to parental involvement.

    12 Building Schools. Building Trust.

    This South Side neighborhood taught Chicago International a few important lessons about community relations. PLUS: Highlights from a $15 million renovation.

    20 All the Worlds a StageWhy art education matters.

    VOL. 01 NUM. 2 | SPRING/SUMMER 2008

    departments02 OpeningThoughts

    04 ViewPoint

    05 PolicyReport

    18 Noteworthy

    24 Chalkboard

    26 Exploration

    28 Achievement

    29 Extensions

    31 Resources




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    FocalPoint Magazine | A Chicago International Charter School Publication | 228 South Wabash Avenue, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60604

    We invite our readers to create a dialogue with CICS. Please share your comments and stories with us. We may feature your comments in our next edition of FocalPoint. Thank you.

    Chicago International Charter School 228 South Wabash Ave., Suite 500 Chicago, IL, 60604 p (312) 651-5000 f (312) 651-5001




  • ViewPoint

    What surprised you the most in working with Chicago International?Q:

    CICS is truly one of the models of education that looks to nurture the childs mind, body, and soul. From campus to campus, they have and continue to support the choral program, giving it the attention it needs to make it even more successful. From what I can see, they treat every program the same way.Bryan Johnson Kadash Choral Productions

    My expectations in working with CICS was that I would need to bring my A game; the children would be sponges for knowledge and make me go the extra mile. I was surprised the most by the enthusiasm of the kids to be involved in the student-run stores. The potential to make money really excites them.

    Toya Simmons Enterprising Kids

    For me, the variation in each school (in terms of the climate, facility, population served, and the location) has been the most surprising part of my experience with CICS. While they too vary greatlyeach of the people I have worked with is clearly dedicated to providing optimal conditions for learning and for social development for the students we serve. Moreover, all of the individuals I have dealt with have been professional, upbeat, and focused, yet willing to explore innovative programs and projects.

    Matthew Smucker United States Tennis Association (USTA) Mindful Practices is honored to be part

    of Chicago International community by providing Hip-Hop, Yoga, Music & Movement, and Tennis to CICS Bucktown, CICS Avalon, and CICS Basil. We have found the students at these sites to be responsive and respectful, valuing the creative venue through which to expand their wellness horizons. As an organization, we have been most surprised by the depth of programs offered to CICS students and the dedication of the students, administrators, and staff.

    Carla Tantillo Mindful Practices

    Our Mad Scientists have all really enjoyed their interactions with Chicago International Charter School students. They have been really engaged in all the activities and have shown a great aptitude for science.Elena Lojo Mad Science

    CICS has embraced the concept of innovative programming and puts a high value on experience and quality. This is apparent in the way teachers and administrators at CICS schools conduct themselves. CICS schools truly seem to be teaching the whole child and our world is sure to be a better place because of it!Margot McGraw Toppen May I Have This Dance

    04 | FocalPoint

    I have found through my experiences working with them [that they] are highly dedicated and talented administrators and staff who are fully committed to involving parents in the life of the school and open to innovative ways of reaching out to parents. I have also found bright, happy children and parents who are very invested in their childrens well-being, interested in participating in their childs school, and committed to being the best parents that they can be.

    Norma Irie Juvenile Protection Association

  • PolicyReport

    School of ChoiceHow state legislation affects Chicago families

    by Collin Hitt

    In 1997, Chicago International Charter School (CICS) opened its doors as part of a bold new experiment in public education. By allowing principals the freedom to manage, teachers the freedom to teach, and parents the freedom to choose, charter schools like Chicago International seek to end the cycle of failure in Chicagos public schools.

    Eleven years later, charter schools are no longer an experiment. Theyre a proven success. Chicago is now home to 29 charter schools with more than 50 campuses, serving more than 10,000 students; and as Chicago Public Schools recently reported, charters are outperforming comparable public schools on four out of five measures of student performance.

    The schools have also proven to be incredibly popular with parents. There are more than 12,000 families on waiting lists to enroll their children in one of Chicagos charter schools, and in a recent poll, 25 percent of Illinois families specifically listed charter schools as their first choice in education.

    On the surface, the sky seems to be the limit for the Chicago charter school movement. Unfortunately, charter schools face an arbitrary glass ceiling and will be unable to reach new heights unless state law is changed.

    This fall, Amandla, a new charter school, will open on Chicagos South Side. Due to current restrictions, Amandla will also be Chicagos last new charter school. State law arbitrarily limits Chicagos number of charter schools, and Amandla has received Chicagos 30th and final charter.

    For years, advocates of charter schools and parental choice have urged lawmakers to lift this cap. The General Assembly has been slow to act, and it is unlikely that the law will be changed in time for new charter schools to be approved to open in Chicago for the 2009-2010 school year.

    In the meantime, however, hope is not completely lost for the thousands of Chicago families on waiting lists. State law allows many existing charter schools in Chicagothose that opened before 2003 to expand