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South Side School Set for Turnaround

Despite heartfelt pleas from students, parents and faculty, Phillips High School, located on Chicago’s South Side, will be closed. The school, after a full turnaround, will reopen next school year with a new principal and staff.

Phillips, located at at 244 E. Pershing Road, has been placed in the care of the Academy of Urban School Leadership, an institution trained to revamp some of Chicago’s most under-performing schools in some of the city’s most economically disadvantaged communities.

The turnaround process includes four main components: firing and replacing the current principal, eliminating the entire staff from teachers to janitors, reconstructing the curriculum and renewing the culture.

A Wendell Phillips Oversight Committee has convened to oversee the process; members include Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), Chicago Public Schools staff, Chicago Board of Education members, a professional educator from the University of Chicago and community leaders.

The committee, which will meet twice a month, held its first meeting on Tuesday, April 20 at the Bronzeville Community Clubhouse, a small community center located across the street from Phillips High School.

Bronzeville Club house Founder and President John Cook, who also sits on the oversight committee, said much of the first meeting was spent talking to new principal, Terrence Little, currently principal of Morton School of Excellence.

“I like the hands-on approach that the principal is stressing,” said Cook, “I think it’s going to work out providing everything goes to plan.”

The committee’s main priorities will be to ensure that students are able to pick up where they left off and have a chance to be educated from this point forward, Cook said.

But he does fear that because of the recent trauma the students and the school has experienced, the academic progress made by students may slip. The oversight committee agreed, saying that many teachers have been distracted, worrying about their own futures and students, too.

Dr. Sokoni Karanja, president and chief executive officer of the Center for New Horizons, an organization that works to empower communities, thinks there’s more to the closing of Phillips and other Chicago high schools in that area that meets the eye, or is being reported.

Karanja also serves on the oversight committee, which is currently looking for parent and student representatives from Phillips.

“The goal is to essentially minimize disruption to the students during the turnaround process,” said Elchert.

The committee will meet twice a month and is slated to stick around even after the turnaround is complete.

“Everybody’s pretty much excited,” said Elchert when he described the energy of the committee.

“They definitely have the kids interest at heart,” said Cook, adding “I’m excited about the possibilities.”

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