After 56 years Budlong Principal Al Solomon is retiring. The Local School Council faces a selection process that may start as soon as next week before the results of the elections are known.
LSC meetings at Budlong have been held at 9A for several years, despite calls by parents, teachers and others that changing the time would encourage greater participation. The meetings are chaired by a parent LSC member, but Solomon is quick to rise and answer out of turn when his stewardship of the school is questioned.
The school, located in the 40th Ward, is not considered a target of Grow47, an organization established by Ald. Ameya Pawar. Parents and community activists have told The Bulldog that Ald. Pat O’Connor is reluctant to engage the school and the principal.
O’Connor did not return calls placed to him last week about another neighborhood issue and is believed to be still out of town.
The Challenges at Budlong
Budlong received poor reports from the Chicago Consortium report on the Five Essentials. It was cited for creating a poor supportive environment for students and for a lack of ambitious instruction.
The Consortium’s report, an annual study by the University of Chicago and the Urban Education Institute, is recognized by the Chicago Public Schools for inclusion of some of its findings in the fall school report card sent home to parents.
Students reported some of the lowest scores in the 16 North Side schools covered by The Bulldog, to create a low score for the school in the area of supportive environment.
In contrast to the report of the students, faculty at Budlong defended their work, giving strong scores to an area that measured student discussion.
Students created the score by responding poorly to a number of questions from the Consortium in a survey administered at the school. The Consortium then used the responses to point to a weak supportive environment.
Five areas were considered to determine Budlong’s poor supportive environment score:
- Academic Personalism
- Academic Press
- Peer Support for Academic Work
- Student-Teacher Trust
The poor replies by students to these questions led the Consortium to give Budlong a poor overall score in supportive environment:
- This class really makes me think
- The teacher expects me to do my best all the time
- The teacher expects everyone to work hard
- The teacher asks difficult questions in class
- I really learn a lot in this class
- The teacher wants us to become better thinkers, nor just memorize things
- This class challenges me
- This class requires me to work hard to do well
- The teacher notices if I have trouble learning something
- The teacher is willing to give extra help on schoolwork if I need it
- The teacher helps me catch up if I am behind
- The teacher gives me specific suggestions about how I can improve my work in this class
- The teacher explains things in a different way if I don’t understand something in class
- Peers feel it is important to pay attention in class
- Peers feel it is important to come to school every day
Two areas were highlighted as strong however. They dealt with security outside the school. Inside the building, students expressed concern about safety.
The area of a supportive environment was not the only area of concern that should be addressed by the new Budlong LSC. Students report weakness in the area of ambitious instruction.
The school has a strong bilingual program for immigrant parents. Educators are telling The Bulldog that at schools with a large population with weak English skills that classes for parents reflect improved student performance.
Despite the school’s efforts, students noted in two responses that improvement was needed for the English curriculum:
- Students were asked to report on whether they rewrote a paper or essay in response to comments
- Students were asked to improve a piece of writing as a class or with partners
Budlong students criticized the math instruction with poor results to the following questions:
- In math class, have you written a few sentences to explain how you solved a math problem?
- In math class, have you written a math problem for other students to solve?
- In math class, have you discussed solutions to problems with other students?
- In math class, have you applied math to situations in life outside of school?
The Budlong students also decked the school with answers that questioned course clarity through their replies to the following questions:
- It’s clear to me what I need to do to get a good grade
- The work we do in class is good preparation for the test
- I learn a lot from feedback on my work
- The homework assignments help me to learn the course material
- I know what my teacher wants me to learn in this class
Three areas of strength resulted in a strong result in the area of student discussion:
- Teachers reported students use data and text references to support their ideas
- Teachers report students show respect to each other
- Teachers report that most students participate in discussion at some point
Let’s Go To the Test
The CPS 2011 Elementary School Performance Policy Report scores schools in a different manner than that of the Consortium, relying for the most part on test scores.
There are indicators that Budlong has been doing well:
- ISAT Reading, the school received 5 of 6 points. Despite a positive trend of 3.2, CPS requires a positive trend (the difference between the current score and the mathematical average of the prior three years) of greater than 6 to receive three points.
- ISAT Science, the school received 5 of 6 points. Again a trend of 3.9 was not enough to garner all the points.
- ISAT Composite, 5 of 6 points with points lost on the trend again, up 5.7 this time.
- Adjusted Attendance Rate is 6 of 6 points.
This is balanced by areas that need improvement. The schools measure ‘value-added’ for students in the school.
This is the difference between the average growth of students in the school (as measured by the ISAT scale score points) and the growth of similar students District-wide. The comparison is made using a regression methodology that controls for each student’s grade level, prior ISAT performance, and student demographics.
Six points are available for value-added. Budlong only received one point, for reading.
In total, Budlong received 64.3 percent of the points. That was good enough to earn the school a level two rating, but is a decrease from the previous year.
In the 2010-11 school year the 78.6 percent rating earned Budlong a coveted Level One rating.
A Roadmap For Improvement
The LSC needs to move on from the Solomon era. Identify that which worked and work to excise those parts of his long tenure that didn’t work.
Fortunately, there is a road map.
The Consortium report notes a very low score at Budlong in the area of teacher-teacher trust, 13 of 100 points.
Teachers responded to areas that a new principal will need to address and change that will improve teacher-teacher trust and the collective responsibility of the professionals at Budlong:
- Teachers feel respected by other teachers
- Teachers in this school trust each other
- It’s OK in this school to discuss feelings, worries, and frustrations with other teachers
- Teachers respect other teachers who take the lead in school improvement efforts
- Teachers at this school respect those colleagues who are experts in their craft
- Teachers help maintain discipline in the entire school, not just their classroom
- Teachers take responsibility for improving the school
- Teachers feel responsible to help each other do their best work
- Teachers feel responsibility that all students learn
- Teachers feel responsible for helping students develop self-control
This sounds bad and difficult for the new principal. However, as the Consortium reports, there are also areas of strength at Budlong that could lead to a stronger school. Teachers reported the school had a strong environment of professional development and a commitment to the school with their replies to the following:
- Teachers report that professional development this year has been sustained and coherently focused, rather than short-term and unrelated
- Teachers report that professional development this year included enough time to think carefully about, try, and evaluate new ideas
- Teachers report that professional development this year has been closely connected to the School Improvement Plan
- Teachers report that professional development this year included opportunities to work productively with colleagues in the school
- Teachers report they look forward to each working day at Budlong
- Teachers report they wouldn’t want to work in any other school
Other areas of strength from the survey:
- Teachers report they have an influence on setting standards for student behavior
- Teachers report they have an influence on determining the content of in-service programs
- Teachers report that the school has a set of special programs, perhaps indicating a focus on programs that are working
Other areas of concern among teachers:
- Teachers report there is not a consistency in curriculum, instruction, and learning materials among teachers at the same grade level
- Finally, although a majority of teachers felt the principal understood how children learn and set a high standard for student learning, there was enough of a contrarian opinion to rank Solomon poorly on these two questions.
- Overall, the Consortium identified Teacher-Principal trust as an issue at the school, ranking Budlong in its needs support area, or poor.
The Field- Another Strength, Another Weakness
Finally, we reach the community outside Budlong.
As noted at the top of this report, Budlong LSC has chosen a meeting time that is difficult for the community: 9A. The Bulldog has been attending the LSC for several months.
It is very clear that the leadership of Solomon does not mesh well with participatory democracy. The Bulldog has watched as concerned parents were lectured and cut-off from discussion by Solomon.
The new leadership should embrace the community. A sign of that would be to change the time of the LSC to a time where more parents and community could attend.
The school has a Hispanic population of 43.7 percent and a limited English proficiency of 42.7 percent.
That indicates the parent population may have limited understanding of English. Yet, discussions of the LSC will go on for ten to 15 minutes in English. The summary in Spanish of that discussion is often 15 seconds.
That has to be very frustrating to the Hispanic parents trying to take part in the proceedings.
It is not unreasonable to have LSC discussions held in English and Spanish in this situation. Trumbull LSC meetings this year have featured excellent examples of the power of gaining the trust of the Hispanic speaking community through a detailed translation of the discussion.
The involvement of the community is being actively discouraged by Solomon. In LSC meetings he has stated he has no interest in filling LSC vacancies. He has stated that community members have a political agenda and are not welcome.
These are decisions for the LSC, not Solomon.
Alone, of the schools visited by The Bulldog, the poster noting the LSC election was not clearly evident at Budlong. This is another sign of the hostility to community involvement at the school.
So, where are the strengths? To see the school’s greatest contribution to the community stand outside on the playing field.
You are standing on a patch of recreation that is very needed in the Budlong community. And, this piece of real estate is a tribute to the vision of Solomon. It is used all the time by children.
So, let’s head back to that Consortium survey and look at what parents are thinking.
The Consortium reports the community support for Budlong is the strongest of the five essentials considered necessary to a strong school. And just as we’ve seen before, the strongest scores from parents concern things OUTSIDE Budlong:
- Students report during the day, it is safe for children to play in the local park or playground
- Students report that people in the neighborhood can be trusted
- Students report that the equipment and buildings in the local park or playground are well kept
- Students report that adults in OUR community do not know who the local children are
- Teachers report they do not work on building trusting relationships with parents
Keys to Success
For weeks The Bulldog has heard that Budlong’s Principal will try to choose his successor.
We think the LSC should reject Solomon’s attempts to bully it into his choice. If necessary, the LSC should wait for the installation of a new council in June.
This school has challenges, including a high number of students from families that are in financial distress and families with a limited English proficiency. Some students are drawn from Lawrence Hall and have behavior issues.
Clearly something is wrong inside the building and there is this pool of untapped community trust.
We could lay the blame for ignoring the community on Solomon, who has a reputation as a verbal bully with staff and community members. But we could also lay this situation squarely on the shoulders of Ald. Pat O’Connor.
O’Connor has shown he will work to improve schools, as he has improved Mather High School.
And he has indicated he will not work with schools like Budlong where there is hostility to ‘politicians.’
Time to up the ante. O’Connor no longer can shirk his responsibility to this school or schools in general.
Solomon will be leaving and it is clear that Budlong needs money to improve the old building. And it is clear that the community has already given support in the form of money for that field and for other improvements inside the building.
O’Connor will need to champion Budlong, and the other schools in the 40th Ward, to gain part of the millions Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised for infrastructure.
To Solomon’s credit, when he has been given money, he has known how to use it wisely.
The Bulldog has learned that Solomon wants to stay around as an advisor to the new principal. It would not be good for the new principal to have a questioning former CEO hanging around. But here is something Solomon can offer: if the new principal can get the funds, Solomon obviously knows how to use the money well.
The Selection Process
Catalyst reports Clarice Berry, President of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Assoc., as saying 2012 could be a watershed year for retirements. Because of that the pool of potential candidates to fill the Solomon vacancy is expected to be very small.
Principals are reacting to proposed rules that would limit the number of unused sick and vacation days the principals banked during their employment at CPS according to Catalyst.
CPS has a list of principal candidates in what is known as the Principal Pool. Catalyst reported in March there were 485 candidates in the CPS Principals pool, but noted that more than 250 were sitting principals. Catalyst reported that as of early March 150 principals had announced they were retiring.
In reaction to this, in March CPS proposed offering a bonus of up to $25,000 for up to 50 out of town candidates.
The Budlong LSC should advertise the vacancy nationally, with O’Connor backing Budlong as one of the schools to receive the $25,000 signing bonus.
The LSC should use its funds to advertise in a national publication or website.
It is time for Budlong to join the neighborhood schools in this area as a great place to learn.
The date of the Budlong election is Wed., April 18, 6A-7P.
The co-owner of the Bulldog, Jane Rickard, is employed by CPS and has been assigned to Budlong in the past. Rickard did not participate in writing this report.
The Opinion of the Bulldog
- The current LSC should not make a decision on replacing Solomon. It is should start the selection process by advertising for candidates and seek the support of Ald. O’Connor
- O’Connor must be held to account for this school, given his role as leader for the mayor. O’Connor must bring home the bacon to this school
- O’Connor must engage this school. He wants a buy-in from the community, it is here but ignored:
- The community has funded the construction of the athletic field
- The community has funded a library
- The community, through this site alone, are now demanding action
- It is time for O’Connor to show his support for Budlong
- The LSC, in its selection process, should demand to know how candidates plan to address the issues highlighted by the Consortium report.
- Solomon’s role in the new administration as an ‘advisor’ must be limited to working with his strengths. The new principal must have a chance to rise or fall on their own efforts.
- The final decision on a new principal should rest with the new LSC.
Review the Budlong LSC records on The Bulldog’s Document Cloud