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Principal Says Community is Key to Saving South Side School

Phillips Academy
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Just before Terrance Little took over as principal of Wendell Phillips High School on July 1, he took a quick tour of the school and one word came to mind: “Chaos.”

“It looked like a zoo,” Little said.  “If a school doesn’t look like a school, then it’s not a school.”

With the help of parents and the community, Little plans to change all that.

In the 2009-2010 school year, Phillips was ranked 650 out of 658 public high schools in the state of Illinois. This was according to the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE) test results, which did not meet the requirement set by Chicago Public Schools.  As a result, the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), contracted through CPS, is now running the South Side school.

Little said despite getting students who start the ninth grade reading at a sixth grade level, he has managed to raise the students’ expectations.  The grading scale has been tightened, and now students must receive a 95 percent or better to receive an “A”.  Anything less than 75 percent is considered failing.

“The kids have to be challenged, that’s the only way they are going to get better,” Little said.

Timothy Goosby said he has seen the highs and lows at Phillips, dating back to his days as a student in the mid-1960s.  For the last 12 years, he has volunteered as a social worker at the school and has witnessed several turnaround efforts.

Goosby said he thinks this time will be different.

“I can’t put my finger on it, but something feels different about this resurrection,” Goosby said. “Of all the turnarounds I feel this one will be successful.”

Goosby said one of the main reasons he thinks this turnaround will be successful is because the community is more involved.

Louisa Shannon is a stay-in-school coordinator for the Centers for New Horizons located at 4150 S. King Dr. in Bronzeville. She said her organization offers tutoring services, career development and mentoring to Phillips students as a part of its “Teen Reach” program, in an effort to help with the school’s turnaround.

Dr. Ignacio Lopez is an assistant professor at National-Louis University that partners with the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) in the training of teachers for turnaround schools. He said the school trains teachers to understand the community in which they work because it helps build better relationships with students.

“With the support of administration and the community, the teachers can help these students excel academically,” Lopez said at a parent and community meeting hosted by the Bronzeville Alliance. “Every little bit counts.”

Some parents and students have already seen improvements.

Equator Howard, a retired social worker and 1979 graduate of Phillips, has already seen a change in her two children, one a sophomore and the other a junior, who attend the school.

“They’re more disciplined now,” Howard said.  “They seem to be more engaged in their studies so far, and I just pray they can keep it up.”

Terrance Little envisions that Phillips will be “the South Side’s school of choice” and is confident that, this time, the turnaround will be a successful one.

“I’m the best in the game,” Little said.  “I’m guaranteeing it will work.”

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