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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

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