Chicago and Atlanta share lessons learned on education and quality schools - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Chicago and Atlanta share lessons learned on education and quality schools

In the first of MPC's Building Successful Mixed Income Communities series of forums, CEOs of the Chicago and Atlanta housing authorities and leaders in education from both cities discussed issues related to the redevelopment of schools in communities affected by the transformation of public housing.

Nearly 150 people attended the first forum in the “Building Successful Mixed-Income Communities” series, a quarterly initiative co-sponsored by MPC and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to explore key issues related to the mixed-income communities developing as part of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) Plan for Transformation. Introduced by Julia Stasch, vice president of the Human and Community Development Program of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and moderated by MPC Housing Director Robin Snyderman, the forum tackled many of the issues related to the promotion of quality schools and education programs as important parts of the success of mixed-income neighborhoods.

The panel of speakers included:

Peterson said that leaving public housing residents on their own and ignoring the future of children living in public housing brought “high costs” and negative consequences to communities. Since drop-out and academic failure rates are higher for these children, Peterson stressed the need for a strong school system that, along with healthy, mixed-income housing developments, helps public housing residents overcome the cycle of isolation, poor education, and poverty that has historically plagued public housing residents. Yet, Peterson reminded, the CHA Plan for Transformation goes beyond public housing redevelopmentto include all community residents and encompass the re-foundation of whole new neighborhoods. In order to leverage the resources needed to create a healthy environment to attract and retain families from all kinds of backgrounds, collaboration between stakeholders, such as the CHA and CPS, is key.

The most recent example of cooperation between them is the Mid-South Planning initiative, which, by May 2004, will result in a plan pointing up the needs, challenges, strategies, and resources needed to create a network of high performing neighborhood schools in Chicago’s Mid-South area (bounded by 31st Street, the Dan Ryan Expressway, 47th Street and Lake Michigan). Watkins presented this initiative, which includes six working groups consisting of representatives from CPS, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, foundations, local universities, nonprofit organizations, and other public agencies, as well as community members. The six groups are examining:

  1. supports for innovation
  2. high performing neighborhood schools
  3. early learning
  4. extended learning opportunities
  5. housing, schools, and community
  6. developing human capital

For more information on the Mid-South Planning Initiative, download a presentation here.

After presenting a video about the recent achievements of the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA), Renee Glover recalled how the schools around Atlanta’s public housing were, prior to her appointment as the AHA's CEO, among the worst performing in the city. She attributed this to bad housing policy that had “institutionalized the permanent isolation of poor families in warehouses,” instead of offering them temporary housing assistance and social services toward upward mobility and success. In Atlanta, Glover remarked, the very social contract had been broken: families had been deprived of opportunities for success from the beginning.

Terry Peterson, CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority Barbara Eason Watkins, Chief Education Officer of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS); and Renee Glover, CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority

Good neighborhood schools were a key piece in the development of human potential and sustainable communities in Atlanta’s former public housing sites. An example of Atlanta’s holistic approach was the planning and implementation of Centennial Place, a mixed-income community that included one of the best performing elementary schools of the Atlanta system.

Johnson, who was a key actor in the creation of Centennial Place Elementary School, highlighted four factors of success for developing quality schools around mixed-income housing:

  1. Understand and address the sociological characteristics and needs of the population to be served
  2. Focus on programs for children up to four years old and in elementary schools first, and then move to medium, high school, and college ages, following the natural pace of the educational journey
  3. Make special efforts to bring together stakeholders involved in the process, especially housing authorities and public schools agencies, to create — if possible — incentives to provide funding and assistance only to coordinated efforts, and avoiding a “silos mentality”
  4. Find “guardian angels” for each of the schools: individuals or organizations that watch them and help keep momentum, supplementing the efforts of public agencies.

According to Johnson, education works like a manufacturing process, adding value to people as they go from elementary to high school and college. Universities are not only the last educational step of the education ladder, but can also play a key role in the revitalization of disinvested areas. “Great colleges do not like to be located in bad neighborhoods,” Johnson said. In Centennial Place, the neighboring Georgia Institute of Technology was involved from the early stages in the redevelopment efforts, with faculty members working closely with the school’s teachers and principal.

Norman Johnson, founding Board member of Centennial Place Elementary School, Atlanta

Currently, 60 percent of students at Centennial Place Elementary School qualify for free lunches, and the school ranks second in the system in terms of performance.

During the Questions and Answers part of the forum, attendees asked about the specifics of the planning and implementation strategies at Centennial Place and its applicability in Chicago. One of the key factors for success, according to Johnson, was that the planning process started early (in 1988), so when HOPE VI funds arrived, the school had already created a plan to reform its physical assets and curriculum, and was ready to implement it. Johnson also explained that keeping the interest in Centennial Place high in the list of priorities of the local policy agenda, and presenting it as a demonstration project, helped not only the school interests but also the success of subsequent school reform plans in the city.

Future forums will explore youth, families, and community development; economic development and jobs; and other topics. Visit regularly for more information on this new initiative.

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For more than 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area's toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow. Read more about our work »

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