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Canter Middle School and changes at Murray Language Academy magnet school, Hyde Park, Chicago

Presented by Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, its Schools Committee (Nancy Baum, Chair), and their website www.hydepark.org. Join the Schools Committee! Join the Conference! Please note, this is not a website of Canter or Murray schools.

Vitals. Principal Colleen Conlan, 4959 S. Blackstone Avenue, Chicago, IL 60615, phone 773 535-1410, fax 773 535-1047.
Website: Cuip.net/schools/canter. Theme: A Global Village. LSC meets 1st Tuesdays. 6 or 6:30 pm.

Canter is being planned for phase out after a last year for 8th graders 2013-14, despite strong objections based on much research. Documents are available supporting keeping Canter open- Case for Canter.


After the co-chairs of the HPKCC Schools Committee spoke to the Board of Education at the start of 2014 on behalf of keeping Canter open, President David Vitale told them the only chance for Canter was for HPK to establish a Community Action Council to plan excellence and balance in all our area schools. Such a CAC has been formed. The Schools Committee continues to work separately for Canter to remain open, perhaps as a 6-8th to relieve pressures on the elementary schools and to attend best to the special needs of this age group.

Canter, after being given a reprieve for its final class of 8th graders, was closed at the end of the school year 2014. As a close school, it was supposed, per CPS and the city decision in March, to undergo a solicitation for repurposing ideas under the school's alderman. Ald. Burns instead worked with Kenwood Principal Gregory Jones, after testing the waters with some area stakeholders and one assumes getting assurances of acceptability to CPS, presented to the public in June 2014 what the Alderman considered the best available solution that would keep the building in use and as a regular public school on a sustainable basis. The Kenwood Academic Center (Selective Enrollment school for 7th and 8th graders) would transition over the next year into the Canter building. Principal Jones at that meeting and in more detail the June 25 meeting of the HPK CAC described what that might look like both for the KAC (which would likely grow) and in considerable offerings to the middle school teachers and students of the other HPK schools with middle school students. The plan is a thoughtful and flexible one that seemed to appeal even to those who felt replacing a open enrollment neighborhood middle school building with a selective enrollment school is wrong. The idea was to work out options between/among schools with middle school (each having its own flavor and strengthening the middle grades there) and for the total population of middle schoolers including opps for some or many kids to do some things adt KAC (although the latter was not promised). Starting in the summer, the CAC and other stakeholders, parents and others will join the transition team in the school. Ald. Burns also promised some kind of public process.

The following is excerpted from the Herald's report of June 25, by Daschell M. Phillips.

"I was not interested in a charter school," Burns said. "What I heard the community saying was make it a middle school."
Burns said the move would relieve the overcrowding at Kenwood, 5015 S Blackstone Ave., and provide more open seats at teh academic center, which is a selective enrollment 7tha n 8th gade program.
Kenwood Principal Gregory Jones said the expansion is a great opportunity for the school, which currently has about 18,00 students in 7th through 12th grade. The building's capacity number is 1,646. "The high enrolment numbers are a good thing. Most public high schools are losing their population--Kenwood is gaining," Jones said. "This would give [Kenwood] the opportunity to serve more students well."
Most community members said they weren't against Burns idea but were leery of the process because the plan for Canter's building was made without community discussion.... Deb Haas said, "We want a middle school for everyone, the academic center is selective enrollment." ...
"Canter was not being used by by the Hyde Park-Kenwood community," Burns said. "I want to integrate what people are using to bring vitalization to the Canter building." [Burns and Area 9 head Harrison Peters said they receive lots of calls from parents whose children can't get into the academic center.] [Parents asked if at least some non KAC could be enrolled in a dual-occupancy or have time in the KAC without hurting the other schools. And Facilities head Tom Tyrell said if the decision is to move KAC into the Canter bldg., CPS would be obligated to find the resources to fix up the building.]

Notes on June 16, 2014 Meeting on Canter Repurposing by Ald. Burns at Kenwood Academy.
By Gary Ossewaarde
June 16 Alderman Burns devoted the entire monthly ward meeting at Kenwood Academy to the long-promised community meeting on re-purposing Canter (as delegated by CPS and the city to aldermen to hold such meetings.) (The alderman provided a handout setting forth his position and what he has done on Dyett. He would not answer criticisms of this or discuss alternative ideas (whether he would support them or not) such as Global Leadership and Green neighborhood for Dyett discussed from the floor-- back and forth was at time very heated.)
Burns, Kenwood Principal Dr. Gregory Jones, Network Chief Peters, and a spokesman for CPS Facilities offered (to this writer) a well-reasoned plan to transition the Kenwood Academic Center (KAC) for 7th and 8th graders into Canter in fall 2015 if possible and if approved by CPS. It will take at least a year of both remediation to the building and transition planning at the school and with the Network to make sure this will work. The principal promised there will be at least as many electives and opportunities at the academic center, and if possible growth in numbers, including plenty of opportunities for the students to do work in the main high school building and get used to the high school experience. Jones emphasized that his role is implementation-- the best education possible for the children admitted to the school, not policy. Emphasized among benefits was relief of crowding at Kenwood with opportunity for growth, and that the KAC can grow in the Canter building and perhaps more offered there also. And it saves the Canter building as a fully- utilized (speakers seemed to promise) structure that is a regular CPS school (negating in some degree the closure by a trade off allowing growth, Burns and the other speakers said-- see below on selective vs open enrollment). The audience generally agreed that the move clearly made the most sense, but thought it in some ways goes backward and that more needs to be included in the outcome (see below).
In answers to strong concerns, the Facilities representative said that if CPS approves the move, CPS is committed to finding the funding to remediate or upgrade the building, and to prevent its deterioration and to keep up the grounds (pointed out in bad shape) in the meantime. He did not promise improvements. Jones and the Network responded positively but without specifics or promises (at least partially because of scheduling and programming constraints and needs/desires of the elementary schools) to urging by many from the audience (appearing to represent consensus) that in-building KAC and middle-school opportunities be available to 7th and 8th graders in other HPK schools, particularly in the receiving (Harte, Ray) but (audience members asked) cluster/Network schools (Shoesmith, Murray but some pointed also to Kozminski and beyond) and also that teachers in these other schools receive at KAC demonstration and planning in best practices.
An apparent majority wanted the KAC to become an open enrollment school at least for the cluster or/and in other ways provide equal educational opportunity for the middle grades- indeed all the kids across the K-12 continuum, in comport with open enrollment in most of the elementary schools and in the high school. This seemed not to exclude the view of CPS that the various schools should be able offer options by way of what CPS called flavors-- such as language academy, math & science, et al-- but there was widespread expression that the children, or many of them, and the community has lost by the exchange of a selective enrollment middle grade program for the former Canter Middle School's open enrollment, and that this loss needs some kind of remediation.
Burns was strongly criticized for presenting the plan as seemingly "that's it" after only talking to some stakeholders, unidentified except for "CAC members". This was called not in the spirit of the CPS/Repurposing Commission publicly announced process and should have started with some kind of RFP earlier. He seemed to promise, without specifics, community input going forward. The school's transition planning process was also vague as to broader process or input beyond faculty, "parents" and the CAC.

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Canter received many physical upgrades in 2010, but not its long-awaited addition. the latter may be harder to get since Murray 7th and 8th graders will be staying there and the numbers are already down near the regulation for under-utilized schools.

This page. HPKCC's Schools Committee welcomes you to our new page on Canter. This fairly new middle school located at 4959 S. Blackstone next to Kenwood Academy, and devoted to serving the special needs of 7th and 8th graders, takes graduates from the Hyde Park Cluster of elementary schools and is intended to feed into Kenwood Academy. This school was a strong effort by schools and neighborhood officers and leaders to help provide continuity and participation/continuation by families in our local schools. The start was rocky, and winning buy-in by families of some of the Hyde Park schools has been difficult, although now coming along. The very look of the school, and its proximity to Kenwood Academy, which is perceived as having problems, and missing facilities in Canter were among the problems.

Success and needs of the school is a special concern to the HPKCC Schools Committee, as it is to the 53rd TIF Advisory Council and Alderman Preckwinkle. To that end, the Schools Committee is in contact with Canter and Kenwood Academy administrations and local school councils concerning such matters as working together to piggy back on afterschool opportunities width mentoring of Canter by Kenwood students, and the TIF Council (which has help for Canter as one of its principal reasons for being) in May 2007 gave Canter $150,000 for exterior renovations. The school has had some improvements but knows more are needed, especially a lunchroom separate from the gym.

June 2007:

Canter helped by the 53rd St. Tax Increment Finance Advisory Council.

A new action for Canter is a top purpose of the 53rd TIF. Increment from development has not come along, so the Council gave the school $150,000 for mainly exterior beautification. LSC community member Zoe Mikva, liaison to the TIF [and also a member of the HPKCC Schools Committee], has regularly set the school's needs before the TIF. Also, Tony Wilkins of the LSC is a member of the TIF.

In moving the gift, TIF Council Chairman Howard Males said, "Canter representatives have patient and gracious in waiting fro development to fund large-scale improvements to their school. I feel we must do something NOW for the school for the on the order of what we have done for CleanSlate .... additional funding for Canter will be forthcoming as new development occurs within the TIF district."

Earlier, May 8, Zoe Mikva testified forte school's needs at the Chicago Public Schools Capital Improvement Program Planning hearing, saying that "The Principal the staff and the Local School Council have all worked very hard to improve Canter and to attract community support for the school. Much has been accomplished and the school is now at the point where the most important issue remaining is the need to add space and amenities that establishes Canter as a building for 21st century education."

The HPKCC Schools Committee has also visited the school and found it needs improvements inside and out, especially to soften the "fortress" impression of the building.

Needs on which the funds may be spent include new doors, landscaping, exterior cleaning and an electric sign like that of Kenwood Academy.

Update November 10 2008 TIF meeting:

Update on the Canter Middle School Project: Tony Wilkins, Canter LSC member, reported that the beautification project is definitely moving forward with a certificate of inspection being issued by Tishman Co., project managers. The project will include glass doors at the main entrance, chemical cleaning of the exterior, and replacement of all inside doors and hardware. Tony also mentioned Canter's admirable ISAT scores of 84.1 in Reading and 77.7 in Math, its Spanish program, Algebra for 8th graders, and partnerships with Kenwood Academy and Shoesmith Elementary. The school's mantra is "Think big: think college." On behalf of the principal, Dr. Colleen Conlan, Tony thanked Alderman Preckwinkle and the TIF Council for its effort on behalf of Canter students.

 

Canter in the Community

Up at Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell, are several suites of linoleum block prints on the themes in the curricular gathered along a set of meandering rivers. Artist Mary Teper led the students in designing the blocks. Teachers were Ms. Askevich, Ms. Collins, Mr. Fishbine, Mr. Ryan, and Ms. Washington.

Six students received City Year AmeriCorps awards and Presidential Citations: Brandi Harper, Alicia Dawson, Paisley Owens, Breia Harris, Ariam Belk, and Sterling Nelder.

Canter held Family Night May 18. Highlights were performances by students, student from Muntu Dance Theatre, and more-even a fashion show.

Canter participated in the shopping for schools programs of Target, Office Depot and Schoolpop. Call the school to get the Canter ID. You can also visit www.schoolpop.com.

Summer 207 Canter hosted a four-day Chinese day camp for students from Pershing West elementary school.


From the local school council and the parent teacher organization

Courtesy of the school newsletter, June 2007. The newsletter is underwritten by the University of Chicago Office of Community and Government Affairs.

The LSC evaluated and recommended the teacher for four years.
A high number of parent reps are leaving as their children are graduating: volunteers to serve are sought. Contact the Principal. Likewise for the PTO, which puts on most of the fun activities of the school.


HPKCC Schools Committee and Canter

In September 2006 the committee hosted its Principals and LSCs dinner at Canter to highlight the importance of this school and its needs. In the winter we did a walk through with the Principal to help identify needs, strengths, and weaknesses. In 2007, we focused on the after school programs and needs in Canter and the other schools in the area, including hosting a forum on after school and enrichment programs providers, finding contradictions on how many programs (compared to the large array of providers) really take place in schools, whether they are sufficient, do they fully cover the needed time slots, funders and funding, how many are participating, and what the awareness level is. (The Committee is compiling an information and resource database and possible publication on programs provided.)

With regard to Canter, the school has many programs for the first hour after school lets out, but wants to widen the provisions and extend their time to when parents get off work. Also, from various regulatory and funding complications, Canter is not currently in the After School Matters program. Kenwood Academy has a small ASM program with slots that go unfilled. The Committee has encouraged the schools to get together so that Canter can piggyback with Kenwood's through students of that program mentoring Canter students in a structured program.

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Canter's future after Murray restores its 7th and 8th grades, 2010

Canter was designed about 2000 to become a strong receiver from five of the local elementary schools and be the feeder into Canter. But from the start not only were there problems with program, perception, and school population combined with a drab look, weak plant, and lack of the promised addition to make the school work well, but Murray as a magnet school did not fit well with Canter and and the Murray parents (many from outside the community-- but the resistance by no means wholly from them) not only did not care Canter but were pulling students out early to find a top flight school with a direct path to high school. Besides which, most parents who sought a pipeline approach from elementary to high school did not follow through and use that pipeline. In the process of insisting on getting 7th and 8th graders back, the history was lost that the upper grades of Murray were diluted with many poorer performing students to fill the classrooms deserted by early pullout to get into the direct to high school track - and parents complained of a decline in quality of 6-8th grade students AND THAT IS THE MAIN REASON MANY PARENTS WANTED TO MOVE THE 7TH -8TH GRADERS OUT OF MURRAY IN THE FIRST PLACE. Now Murray will have a stronger geographic component and it is to be seen what impact tha will have on Murray's outstanding character and success of a K-8 model there.

One of the dilemmas is that parents often will choose schools regardless of quality but rather the school with more prestige or from a more prestigious community that will give their child a better chance of a better high school and college.

What will happen with Canter without the Murray kids. It already has a small population-- CPS shuts schools with too few students-- especially should Ray School or a substantial part of its parents go the same route?

First general description of the situation then parent letters

Back on front burner: restoring 7th and 8th grades at Murray- effect on Canter?

There was a rebellion a few years ago when many parents and LSC members objected to sending students from magnet-school Murray to then-new Canter Middle School. Canter had many problems then, but has been moving up. In early 2010 a huge rally was held in the school promoting bringing back 7th and 8th grades.

Issues include, when should the needs of parents in a school--esp. when the school has a high proportion from outside the neighborhood--be allowed to trump neighborhood strategy and/or potentially undermine two existing schools nearby, the already-magnet Kenwood Acad. Ctr. and the neighborhood Canter? Whose neighborhood strategy-- does this relate somehow to increasing particularly the number of well-off families in the neighborhood and increasing housing and density in their behalf (several buildings are indeed being upscaled)? Does Hyde Park already have enough middle school capacity-- Kenwood Acad. Center gifted heavily from outside the neighborhood, UC Lab School drawing from inside and out, Canter a neighborhood.... ?

Here is the Herald's report January 27, 2010. By Daschell M. Phillips

The Murray Elementary Local School Council, or LSC, held a community forum Thursday to present a request to Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, to return Murray to a K-8 school.

On November 30, the Murray LSC sent a request to CPS requesting the reinstatement of its 7th grade class in fall 2010. Murray, which is a selective enrollment magnet school, would fill the seats with its current student population and then have a city-wide lottery to fill the remaining seats.

In the school's large gym, parents and children that attend Murray, 5335 S. Kenwood Ave., crowded onto the bleachers and surrounding foldout chairs waving signs and chanting signs in favor of adding the grades -- making the meeting more of a pep rally than a CPS forum.

"As an LSC member, I get lots of questions from parents who find it stressful to have to find another school for their child," said Rhonda Hawkins-Like, president of the Murray LSC. "As a parent, I also held out hope for a 7th and 8th grade."

Greg Mason, principal of Murray, said that year after year he has to counsel parents once the reality of their child's need to transfer sets in. "Parents ar so happy once their children are accepted to Murray for kindergarten," Mason said. "Then the faces of the parents start to change after two or three years and they begin to stress about where to send their kids for 7th and 8th grade."

At the forum, parents were asked to write their questions on index cards that would be read to the panel that included Mason and acting CPS board chairman Clare Mufiana, CPS Board member Alberto Carrero, CPS CIO Bob Runcie, CPS Chief of Staff David Pickens, CPS Autonomous Management and Performance schools, or AMPS, representative Anthony Dominick and Abigail Joseph from the CPS Office of Academic Enrichment. Mae Wilson, chief of staff of Ald. Toni Preckwinkle's (4th) office was also a part of the panel.

One of the main questions was why Murray discontinued their 7th and 8th graded program in the first place. The idea to turn Murray into a K-6 school was made at teh community level, Mason said. in 2020 the LSCs of Murray, Ray.., Shoesmith.. and Bret Harte... elementary schools felt it would be nice to have each school feed into Canter Middle School, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., which in turn would be a feeder school for Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone.

"This is a magnet school, and our kids are from all over the city, so Canter was not a natural next step for them," Mason said.

Mason said the 7th and 8th grade classes would be up to par with the current academic standard of Murray. Additional staff and teachers would be hired and gifted and honors programs would be offered. He's already targeted classrooms that wil be cleared out to make room for the upperclassmen should the school receive CPS approval.

Runcie said, based on preliminary observation, Murray has the capacity to return to a K-8 school. Parents were encouraged to send letters in support of the school's request to CPS CEO Ron Huberman.

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Murray regains 7th and 8th grades

(Fact: only about 10 students have been coming from Murray to Canter, so the direct effect on Canter is more perceptual than real, although Canter may lose some to the new Murray upper grades (perhaps making those upper grades less desirable to Murray lower school parents). The question is how far afield Murray will have cast to fill those 7th and 8th spots that may be filled by parents pulling their kids for "better" schools or fast track the kids directly toward preferred high schools-- and with the rules modified so Murray has to take more local students.

Hyde Park Herald March 31, 2010. By Daschell M. Phillips

Murray Elementary School parents will no longer have to worry about where to place their children after 6th grade because at it March 24 meeting, the Chicago Board of Education approved the school's request to return 7th and 8th grades to the school.

In 2002, the local school councils, or LSCs, of Murray... Ray... Shoesmith... and Bret Harte.. decided that the elementary schools should stop at 6th grade so they could serve as feeder schools for Canter Middle School, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave.

Murray, being the only magnet school in the Hyde Park neighborhood, found that this was not to the school's advantage. Students allover the city could attend Murray, so Canter was not a natural next step for those families, and anxious parents were pulling their children out as early as 4th grade in order to get them in a high-performing school that went up to 8th grade. Because of these trends, the Murray LSC sent a request to Chicago Public Schools to allow the reinstatement of its 7th and 8th grade classes.

In fall 2010, 7th grade classes will be added and 8th grade classes will be added the following year. Murray, which is a selective enrolment magnet school, would fill the seats with its current student population and then have a citywide lottery to fill the remaining seats.

"We are very excited and grateful to the board of education for listening to the parents of Murray," said Rhonda Hawkins-Like, president of the Murray LSC. Hawkins-Like, who has a daughter, Arya, in 4th grade and a son, Austin, in kindergarten in Murray, said the committees are being formed to work with schools with a similar language-oriented curriculum to develop the upper grades.

Maria Jossey-Owen, parent teacher organization president and parent of Otel, a kindergartner at Murray, said she is ecstatic about the decision because now she can stop her search for a new school. "Being a language school, it's hard to find a school like this at a 6th grade level." Jossey-Owen said. "Otel is learning French now. If I had to transfer him after 6th grade, he wouldn't have it again until he was in high school."

Herald says "We need to stand behind Canter" (same issue as above article)

The decision by Murray Language Academy's principal and local school council to return 7th an 8th grades to the school should cause local schools boosters to reflect on the state of Canter Middle School and support for it. When the plan was originally presented to turn Canter into a middle school for other elementary schools in the neighborhood, it generated quite a bit of enthusiasm. Is local support for the school dwindling?

By all indications, the school's principal, Colleen Conlan, is doing a find job with the resources she has to spruce the place up -- even replacing the forbidding, industrial doors that once confronted students with warmer, more appropriate portals. Inside and out, the school looks well-maintained -- and is. Parents seem satisfied with their children's performance there. So why would Murray parents turn their back on the school?

For one thing, many of them are from outside the neighborhood, so our idea to use Canter as a feeder school to Kenwood Academy may not appeal to them, regardless of the quality of either school. Also, it seems some are just not sold on the middle school philosophy. That's probably their loss, as studies do seem to reinforce the idea that students in these grades do require a different sort of approach than they did when they were younger and wil when they are older.

When Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) convinced the neighborhood that a tax increment financing district was needed to rejuvenate Hyde Park, a major promise was made to funnel money into Canter -- in particular, an addition was promised for the school. Well, roughly a decade has gone by, and Preckwinkle is likely leaving to be Cook County Board president, and that promise has gone unfulfilled. More than $2 million sits idle in the TIF fund, and a high-quality elementary school has turned away from the project. Would a larger, better-equipped Canter have appealed to more Murray parents? At this point, it appears we will never know.

Hyde Parkers, we need to rededicate ourselves to supporting Canter as a central part of our education plan, and we need to make sure we are explaining to the parents of children taught here how serious we are about their children's education. Canter and Kenwood stand among the finest public education opportunities in the city. Let's make sure that continues to be the case -- and that we reward that excellence.

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Here are some parents' and others' reflections in the April 7 Hyde Park Herald.

Rod Sawyer says Murray choice result of ambivalence

I read the story regarding the Board of Education decision allowing Murray to retain its seventh and eighth grade classes with some ambivalence. I was a part of the team that formulated Canter feeder school, and it seems to me that things appear to be coming to an unceremonious end.

Most of the children of the parents who participated in Canter's formation are in high school. But as an indictment of parents involved in the process, when the time came to pull the trigger on our children's middle school choice, we fired elsewhere, sending our children to selective enrollment schools. We led the way by demonstrating to other parents that we did not trust our children to the very school we created.

Murray may find itself pleased with its actions, but I believe that this will be short-lived. Many of the parents there now were not around when Murray was K-8. They don't know what the upper grades looked like. I'll ask their principal to pull out some old class pictures, because this is what their future will be; class make-ups that are jarringly different than of those grades preceding it . There will also be a return of complaints of incoming kids not being as prepared or holding classes back because they did not have preparation on a par with a Murray K-6 experience.

In the past, Murray, and Ray, served as a safe harbor to those who did not win the high stakes game for the highly sought-after-prize of a seat in Whitney Young's academic center. But they did not serve as a consolation to all. Second place prizes were often private or suburban schools. Murray had challenges filling those upper grades, and they opened enrollment to others. This time the rules will be different. Residency will play a higher role in selection, pulling kids from the same school Murray parents sought to avoid, Canter Middle School.

I suspect that Ray's local school council will also consider withdrawing from Canter. If this happens, there will no longer be a need for a feeder middle school. Everything may become as it once was. But I don't believe it has to. I would support the spirit of the old Canter plan by going back to the drawing board to increase the expansion plans and create a new, state of the art, K-8 elementary school, consolidating Shoesmith into Canter. As a member of the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council, I have watched our first priority of a parking lot unfold into a bold new vision for Harper Court. We should dream dig, and seek no less of a challenge for our second priority, Canter Middle School.


Jane Averill and Tom Panelas, Canter parents, say Canter deserves a closer examination

We were disappointed to read that Murray Language Academy has decided to cease being a feeder to Canter Middle School. Disappointed, but hardly surprised. as parents of a current Canter student who have supported the idea of a neighborhood middle school since that program was instituted at Canter several years ago, we've heard many Hyde Prk parents disparage the school, claim that it's a failure and insist they would never send their own child there. We wonder how m any of these parents have actually been inside Canter and talked with student, families and staff there. Before enrolling own own son, currently a 7th-grader at Canter, we talked to a number of Canter graduates both white and African American, and their parents, and learned that not only did these students have positive academic experiences, but their two-year tenure there was transforming. Students went on to gifted high schools and colleges of their choices.

Our son is happy at Canter, as he was for seven years at Ray School. He's developed close and caring relationships with several teachers and staff members and many good friendships with other students. In academic areas where he is very strong, he has been put in advanced classes and challenged by his teachers so we are satisfied that his academic needs are being met.

The progressive middle-school model that Canter operates under is one that understands the unique needs, emotional and academic, of 12-14-year-olds. This is crucial to youngsters at this age, who are making the difficult transition from childhood to adolescence. The elementary schools in the area always had trouble meeting these needs while also meeting the developmental needs of their 3-11-year-olds.

Canter is staffed by teachers who understand and are eager to teach children of this age. The strive to treat each student as a whole person, not just a test score. And it works.

We agree with last week's editorial about the need to support Canter Middle School and applaud the Herald for remembering just why Canter was set up as a middle school to begin with.


Fred Wearing says Murray will discover reasons they dropped 7th-8th grades in first place (April 14 Herald)

As a resident of Hyde Park for 40 years, I am very disappointed in the leadership of the current Murray principal on several front. Murray has been part of the Hyde Park cluster of schools that included Ray, Harte, Shoesmith and Canter (Wirth) for more than 10 years. The principals of these schools worked with each other to develop an educational community that fostered high academic standards. At the offset when Murray was changed from a neighborhood school serving K-6 students (7th/8th went to Bret Harte Elementary) to a magnet school and 7th/8th grade was added, there was a yearly exodus from Murray at the end of 6th grade to th 7-12 schools. Thus, Murray became two separate schools, the K-6 unit and the 7th/8th grade unit. Parents were ecstatic with the K-6 component and quite dissatisfied with the upper grades. In any given year, at least six to 10 students would opt out of Murray for other schools and the same number of new students would be admitted in the 7th grade to replace those who left. As a result of the exodus, the shear number of new students entering at the 7th grade did impact negatively on th school climate and on the rigor of the academic offerings. I would hope that the principal has a plan ready to implement that will support incoming 7th graders to be "accepted" socially, emotionally and academically.

I would hope that the Herald would watch this change over the next year including the impact on the other Hyde Park schools and the successes and challenges of adding 7th/8th grade at Murray. Over the last few years, little is reported in th Herald about the schools. I think that it is about time that you keep your readers informed about drastic changes that impact the community. I only with the best tot he Canter Middle School community -- keep up the good work.

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Canter responds to loss of Murray students, brush with probation with a new Leadership Academy program and curriculum

Hyde Park Herald, October 6, 2010. By Daschell M. Phillips

Canter Middle School is now a leadership academy. The school's principal is confident that the new curriculum will increase its students' high school readiness.

Canter, which is the only middle school leadership academy in the Chicago Public Schools system, is giving students more autonomy to create their own schedules, choose their own electives and transition through the halls from one class to another.

"Our goal is to prepare them for ninth grade," said Colleen Conlan, principal of the 7th though 8th grade school. "No more sitting in one classroom all day and standing in line to go to the bathroom together."

In order to help the students get an understanding of the new process, they attend leadership classes, Conlan said. The class helps them plan their school year and think about why they are choosing the courses they take. The class also helps them understand the importance of grade point average, courses offered and the class credits system.

"We are establishing a much higher academic standard for our students," said Area 15 schools chief Area Officer Judith Coates, who helped Conlan develop the academy. "We want to build the student's capacity to be responsible for their lives and learning." In fact, understanding their leadership roles and responsibilities are major components to this curriculum, according to Conlan.

"In 7th grade the theme is "Who Am I" and in the 8th grade the theme is "Who Am I in the Community," she said. "We want them to learn their leadership styles and use them in a positive way."

Conlan said that while keeping enrollment numbers up is difficult due to the fact that 50 percent of its population graduates and goes on to high school each year, the school has not seen any adverse effect from Murray Elementary School's decision to expand to 7th and next year 8th grad. The local school councils o Murray.... Ray.., and Bret Harte...., schools decide to have each school feed into Canter, which in turn would be a feeder school for Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone. While many Murray parents were relieved that they would not have to start looking for new schools for their children after 6th grade, many community members were concerned about the effect Murray's decision would have on Canter 's enrollment numbers - especially if the other area schools were to follow suit.

"About 10 out of 110 7th graders come to Canter from Murray each year," Conlan said. This year we have 1214 students, we had 210 last year so it's bout the same but not going down."

Conlan said the school is also increasing the number of open houses it has each year so they can "see our vision come to pass."