Sherwood Elementary: Partnership Prospectus
Samuel P. Whalen, UIC College of Education
Source: Interactive Illinois Report Card. Northern Illinois University. http://iirc.niu.edu/
Sherwood Elementary is a neighborhood “K-8” school located at 245 W 57th St. in the Englewood section of Chicago. The school has been associated with Family Focus Inc. as a 21st Century Community Learning Center since 2003, and is now entering its fifth year of after school program funding. The student and family population is almost entirely African-American (99% in 2006), although a small number of Latino and White students have entered the student body in the last two years. Several statistics in 2006 suggest some daunting challenges. Like many schools in near-Loop African-American neighborhoods, Sherwood exhibits exceptionally high levels of family mobility (44%), and struggles to keep student attendance rates above 90%. Since 2005 numbers of students listed as chronically truant has increased noticeably (to 30 in 2006, or over 7% of students). In 2007 total enrollments fell below 400 students, in contrast to 536 students in 2003. Rates of parent engagement (roughly 86% in 2006) suggest that a significant sub-group of parents can not or do not attend basic school functions such as report card pick up sessions.
Yet despite these obstacles and challenges, Sherwood’s leaders and faculty have realized substantial progress in raising the academic performance of students. The accompanying chart presents the overall ISAT performance of Sherwood Elementary from 2001 through 2007, specifically representing the percentage of students meeting or exceeding Illinois grade level standards in reading, math, and science. From 1999 through 2003 roughly three-quarters of Sherwood students struggled to meet Illinois state standards in reading and mathematics. Failing to meet NCLB AYP targets beginning in 2001, the school was placed on the state’s Academic Watch list and faced possible restructuring by CPS. Performance shifted significantly in 2005, however, and the school has succeeded in meeting the AYP performance targets in both math and reading for three successive years. Preliminary 2007 ISAT results show Sherwood continuing its advance, with a school-wide composite of 52.8%. In both math and reading, 10% more students are meeting state standards than was true in 2005.
Sherwood’s 2006 School Improvement Plan suggests a number of factors that account for this recent improvement in academic performance, despite mounting demographic and neighborhood challenges. The 2006 SIPAAA committee included strong representation among parents, and the school is aware of the need to create a welcoming environment for parents if the school is maintain a viable enrollment level. The faculty is organized as a professional, collaborative learning community at several levels, with responsibilities for curricular alignment delegated to grade level teams. The school has made a commitment to implement the America’s Choice School Design, signaling a determination to organize teaching at all grades around a common core of practices. The principal and leadership team are entrepreneurial regarding the enlistment of assets from within CPS and from the broader community to support student learning.  There is a particularly strong emphasis on professional development that helps teachers effectively mainstream the instruction of special education students, especially through differentiated and individualized instructional practices.
In the case of Sherwood Elementary, three questions stand out:
How can Family Focus elevate and clarify its contribution to strong after school programs in the eyes of school leaders and faculty?
What internal resources could Family Focus Englewood contribute to addressing the developmental needs of behavior disruptive students from the dual perspectives of Family Support and Youth Development?
How can Family Focus Englewood leaders and staff connect with Sherwood’s leadership team to build such a strategy around asset-based and Family Support principles?
The 2006 SIPAAA does not acknowledge Family Focus Inc. as an important school partner. Yet there are at least three clear ways that Sherwood’s needs should be well aligned with the expertise of Family Focus staff. First, the SIPAAA explicitly acknowledges the vital role that after school tutoring currently plays in supporting improved academic performance among students, particularly at ISAT testing time. OST programs also are seen as a potential venue for reaching students with behavior issues and building their positive attachment to the school community. This implicitly acknowledges value added to OST quality by Family Focus. This raises a question: How can Family Focus elevate and clarify its contribution to strong after school programs in the eyes of school leaders and faculty?
Second, to deal with persistent classroom behavior problems, the school in 2006 proposed the idea of in-school suspension strategies to keep disruptive students in school and learning. It is not clear whether or how this proposal was implemented in 2007, but a broader question is raised: What internal resources could Family Focus Englewood contribute to addressing the developmental needs of behavior disruptive students from the dual perspectives of Family Support and Youth Development?
Third, and critically, Sherwood’s 2006 SIPAAA clearly acknowledges a vital stake in staunching high levels of family mobility through creating a more welcoming environment for parents and families. At the same time, the SIPAAA writers expressed frustration with the resistance of local parents to conforming to the daily behavioral and procedural policies of CPS. While Sherwood has initiated several events and programs to link parents to curriculum and literacy, it appears that a more concerted and coherent initiative is needed (and desired) to build trust between parents and faculty and recruit parents in supporting behavioral norms in the school. This raises a third question: How can Family Focus Englewood leaders and staff connect with Sherwood’s leadership team to build such a strategy around asset-based and Family Support principles?
 From the website of America’s Choice (http://www.ncee.org/acsd/program/index.jsp): “The America's Choice® School Design is the result of our extensive study of the best educational practices in the U.S. and abroad. The aim of the design is to ensure that every student is successful on state and local assessments and prepared for college. The design complies in every respect with the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. We focus on five key tasks in readying students for success in today's economy: Standards and Assessments…Aligned Instructional Systems…High-Performance Management, Leadership and Organization…Professional Learning Communities…Parent/Guardian and Community Involvement….”