Blog Tools


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Digital Media and Learning

Digital Media and Learning, founded by the MacArthur Foundation, brings the idea of learning through media into perspective. The article points out how more and more people are leaning though media and technology and how this can be incorporated into schools as well. The article mentions the increased amount of learning done through the internet due to having access to as much information as you want, being able to look up your own interests and more. Incorporating digital media into academics and school life is one of Digital Media and Learning’s goals for the future.

Media is something the majority of teens are familiar with and have access to. As a junior at Priztker College Prep, I believe this would be a successful way of getting more students involved and learning more. Charter schools, having the ability to manage their curriculum, can shape their courses around game-like learning, which will cause a student’s mind to learn while solving “missions or quests.” It’s like taking something teens are already accustomed to and enjoy, and centering it on academics, also making learning a more enjoyable experience.

Getting to experiment with all types of media equipment, with the right focus, in my opinion, would cause students to learn more even when they don’t think they are.

-Elizabeth Martinez, INCS intern

INCS Teacher Job Fair pictures

Here are some pics from INCS' fifth annual Teacher Job Fair.

Check back later for more!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lobby Day 2010 Pics

Bright and early at the Soldier Field Rally.

David Weinberg, INCS Board Chair, addressing the crowd.

Ron Huberman, CPS CEO, showing his support.

Students standing up for their charter schools.

Ron Huberman's address.

On the road to Springfield.

Happy to be counted.

Showing off the signs just before the rally in the rotunda.

Waiting for the rally to start.

Erie Elementary manning an information table.

One Student Group’s Springfield Lobbying Experience

As an INCS consultant on INCS’ Mar. 25th Lobby Day, I had the pleasure of guiding seven high school girls from Young Women’s Leadership Charter School as they and their two teachers hunted down legislators to promote school funding. For an educator like me, this was as much about kids’ learning as about influencing government. And what a day it was.

We first sought out Senator Kwame Raoul, whose district includes the school. Though he was out of town, others hovered about their offices nearby, leading to an extensive discussion with Senator Emil Jones III and new Senator Toi Hutchinson. Hutchinson, particularly, praised the girls for their lobbying effort, and was clearly jazzed to see young minority women taking action.

Representative Barbara Flynn Currie was on our list, and the girls, nervous that she disliked charters, strategized at length about how to pitch their arguments. Unfortunately, Currie was away so the kids didn’t get to test their plans.

Our next hit was Representative William Burns – an easy win because his wife is on the YWLCS Board. Burns, wanting to do more than just brag about his support for the school and charters, provided a mini-lecture on the politics of passing a tax increase in the legislature. Then he suggested we talk with Rep. Karen Yarbrough, and even fished her off the House floor for us. She made each girl state a reason for protecting the education budget, which was great for drawing out the shy kids. Unfortunately she missed one girl in the process. The teachers reminded the girls afterward about the importance of a firm handshake, rather than limp-fish-style.

At the end of the afternoon, as I sat next to Janae in the House visitors gallery, she fumed at the scene. “They’ve all got laptops!” she snapped. “They’ve had opportunities, education, but they don’t care about it for us.” Nevertheless, she told me how her youthful slack attitude had been turned around by a caring bible study teacher at church, who used to call every night to make sure she was doing her homework. “I’ve gone to four different schools,” she said. “And no one at school helped me until I came to Young Women’s.”

She’s going to go far.

--Steve Zemelman

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Charter school vote in Peoria

On Monday, the Peoria school board will cast their vote on the proposed Math, Science and Technology Charter School (MST Charter School). We sincerely hope they will vote yes to approve the school.

The Peoria Charter School Initiative (PCSI), which has proposed the new school, brings together prominent leaders from business, higher education and the grassroots community. They have teamed with experienced charter school leaders from Concept Schools, which operates Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA), to design the school. They have also received support from INCS through our Charter Starter Consulting Program. We believe MST Charter School will be a school of excellence.

Technology leaders in Peoria think so, too. The Caterpillar Foundation has shown its support with a $500,000 challenge grant to the school and other local supporters are stepping up to the plate with funding in response. In addition, hundreds of grassroots community members support the school and want the high-quality, innovative curriculum it will provide for their children.

The proposed school would ultimately serve students in grades 5-12. The MST Charter School offers the promise not only of success in middle and high school, but of college success, as well. Concept Schools has a strong track record of sending students to college. CMSA graduated 100% of the senior class in 2009 and all of those students were accepted to college.

This promise of college success is exemplified in another Peoria connection: Jeovanna Tovar, a student a current senior at CMSA, was just accepted to Bradley University in Peoria with a $50,000 scholarship. How wonderful it will be when the first graduates of Peoria’s MST Charter School can enter Bradley and other colleges and universities across the country, well-prepared for higher education and the 21st century careers beyond.

For more information on the MST Charter School and how to support it, visit

~Anne Levy Brown

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Beyond the Mechanics: Building College-Going Cultures at Charter Schools

College for All (CFA) is an INCS School Services program that helps charter schools strengthen their college going cultures and college counseling support systems. As INCS’ CFA Consultant one of the most exciting things about CFA for me is the chance to develop and implement projects with the schools. I meet with college counseling staff at each school and together we decide what is most needed. Then I create individualized plans that help the schools grow their college counseling capacity.

At UNO-Dr. Hector Perez Garcia Charter High School and Pritzker College Prep, we developed school profiles that would clearly explain what each school’s characteristics are and how they work. These will be sent with students’ applications so colleges will understand their academic environment and see characteristics that make the schools unique. Both schools have also received instruction on using Naviance, a “full service” application that enables counselors, students, parents, and colleges to communicate with each other and organize the college process entirely on line.

At UNO and DuSable Leadership Academy, we developed a comprehensive calendar of college process and testing dates that paralleled school calendars so counselors would know when they and their students need to get things done. For UNO we’re also working on a series of workshops for parents called “Esquela para padres,” that will provide college and financial aid information for parents in Spanish over the course of a year.

Gary Comer College Prep is creating a series of sessions on college for students. We met and developed a sequenced series of questions and exercises that help students think about their interests and goals as they think ahead to college. I’m also creating a list of summer possibilities for students and linking them with Pritzker, which already has a strong emphasis on having students participate in summer programs all over the country.

In some cases, we have created a college office from the ground up. UNO has a large counseling space in its new building. We worked together to make it inviting and useful. Additionally, we located it in a central and highly visible area of the school rather than in a more isolated wing of the building. This will be a constant reminder to students that college is open to everyone. It’s still a work in progress but the counselors have plans and ideas to work with.

For middle school members such as Galapagos and Catalyst Charter Schools, I developed exercises and classroom activities for younger students that can help them get the idea of college in their minds, such as writing stories about their teacher’s college mascot and having a scavenger hunt for when they visit college campuses—finding the mascot or other prominent site son campus. For Galapagos I also made a presentation to the faculty before school opened about college and the process so we could start to have everyone on the same page when they talk to students about the future.

Each of these projects is just a touchstone for the steps to come. As counselors adapt them to their schools, they’ll be building traditions that will guide them and their students through the college process and on to college itself. The enthusiasm and energy CFA counselors bring to their tasks are creating the necessary conditions for each charter school to be a powerful influence on the road to college.

~Willard M. Dix, INCS College for All Consultant

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Transforming public education in Rockford

I had the pleasure of visiting the two new charter public schools in Rockford recently, along with several of my colleagues from INCS and the Rockford Charter School Initiative (RCSI).

Three themes stood out to me at both schools, as we visited classrooms, saw students in action and talked with teachers: high expectations, engagement and support.

At Legacy Academy of Excellence, these themes came across in the consistent, active involvement of students in classrooms throughout the school. Students enthusiastically participated in the call and response of the Direct Instruction approach. The hallways resonated with the sound of student voices. In one of classroom, several students proudly showed me the fiction writing they were working on. Two boys were writing stories about each other and sports – topics that clearly appealed to them both.

A parent and board member shared with us that the school has truly transformed his son’s educational experience. In a sharp departure from the past, he said, his son is now coming home excited about school, eager to talk about what he’s learning and to do his homework.

At Galapagos Rockford, a new charter school replicating the original Galapagos Charter School in Chicago, we were greeted by bright, large classrooms set up for stations and small group instruction using the “CAFÉ” model to teach reading (Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, Expanding Vocabulary). College pendants and other reminders that the elementary school “scholars” (as they refer to their students) are on the path to higher education were displayed throughout the school. We learned about the monthly parades to celebrate students who have consistently completed homework and behaved in a scholarly fashion.

A third grade teacher (a Rockford native who returned to her community with the opening of the charter school) showed us two samples of a student’s writing – one from the first week of school and one from several months later. The difference was remarkable: the first was a sloppy, poorly-written half-page; the second, a neatly written, multi-page story incorporating quotations. The teacher attributed this change to the high expectations of the students in her classroom and across the school.

In both schools, students and teachers are learning for more hours than in the traditional school system – with longer school days for students and significant time devoted to professional development for teachers. A gallery walk in the professional development room at Legacy showed that students weren’t the only ones engaged and supported in their learning. Flip chart posters circled the large room, displaying the work on strategies such as Activating Prior Knowledge that teachers had completed in playfully named teams.

-Anne Levy-Brown

All comments will be posted at the discretion of INCS.