An increase in social-emotional support for students as well as opportunities for them to exercise leadership skills is paying off at a Chicago high school.
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Story posted March 1, 2011. Results updated January 22, 2013
Nearly a decade ago, Taft Information Technology High School graduated only 18 percent of its students, struggled with student discipline, and offered only limited extracurricular activities. Today it is an entirely different—and greatly improved—model school. In fact, Taft was named a 2010 Blue Ribbon School. A radical restructuring led to Taft’s success. A new principal, new discipline strategies, and more attention paid to individual students (teachers now compose individual education plans) have contributed to a higher graduation rate. Last year, Taft’s graduation rate was 95 percent.
Anthony Smith, the current principal and a Taft alumnus, has reinstituted a broad array of extracurricular activities, including football and basketball teams, and the band. Smith has also continued technological improvements and investments at the school.
Don Ellis, who has taught mostly government and economics, has witnessed the school’s transformation firsthand. When he arrived at Taft 27 years ago, a housing project surrounded the school; at that time, students’ problems were often those associated with poverty, such as lack of discipline and low academic achievement. After the housing project was torn down several years ago, students from a mix of socioeconomic backgrounds began attending the school. Ellis says Taft’s low-income students have benefited from interacting with their more affluent peers. “The more students you have who have a different view of education, a broader view, who do not play around—it helps everybody.” Parental involvement, he says, also has increased at the school. Now, more parents are showing up for meetings with administrators and teachers.
Taft has received generous corporate support from Cincinnati Bell, which has adopted the school and has provided much-needed resources. These include twice-a-week tutoring with Bell employees, internships, scholarships, high-speed Internet access for technology classes, and free laptops and cell phone service for higher-performing students. Ellis lauds the partnership with Bell. It is “one of the best connections the school has ever had,” he says. Bell employees consistently come to the school to help students.
That continued support for the school extends all the way to the top of Bell’s corporate ladder: Every student at Taft receives Cincinnati Bell CEO Jack Cassidy’s cell phone number. That personal gesture on the part of a corporate CEO reflects the larger commitment of school administrators, teachers and corporate leaders who have partnered to turn around this formerly struggling school.
This story was originally posted in the American Federation of Teacher's collection of profiles of Great Public Schools. Reposted with permission.
Read LFA's October 2010 post on Taft here.