Top Education Stories You Don’t Want to Miss: September 11 – September 17, 2021

How a Chicago charter school is trying to make sure the kindergarteners are OK

By Cassie Walker Burke for Chalkbeat

“Veteran kindergarten teacher Tanya Davis held up a sharp No. 2 pencil as if she were about to write a word in the air. Soon, 26 youngsters were following suit, and Room 10 was a sea of little fingers writing imaginary words in the sky. The pencil was familiar to many. But, to a few, it still appeared foreign. Davis and her teaching assistant worked the room loosening fists and gingerly repositioning fingers until everyone completed the task: drawing a vertical line on a workbook page. It was little more than a week into kindergarten at LEARN Charter Schools’ Hunter Perkins campus in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood, and Principal Latrice Franklin could already say with certainty that her youngest students will need more — much more — than any kindergarteners in her decades-long career. During in-person assessment interviews before the first day of school, three youngsters did not recognize their names. Educators observed other telltale gaps, from failing to recognize letters or colors to problems with basic counting.”


First Day of School Highlights 2021-2022

By the Noble Network of Charter Schools

“Noble students masked up and headed into the buildings Sept. 3 for their first day of in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year. Energy soared as students saw their friends and teachers face-to-face after a long time apart. Giant Jenga towers, dunk tanks filled with beloved staff members, barbeques, and block parties welcomed students, staff and community members across many Noble schools; everyone celebrating the beginning of the new school year. Check out some of the highlights and photos below.”


Nearly 450 Illinois school districts and private schools have signed up for COVID-19 saliva SHIELD testing. So far, only 79 have started. Here’s why.

By Lisa Schencker and Karen Ann Cullotta for The Chicago Tribune

“Most Illinois schools have not yet started weekly COVID-19 saliva testing despite being several weeks into the school year — a situation that officials blame on the logistics of getting testing off the ground as well as a crush of demand. In early August, the state health department announced that all public schools in Illinois outside of Chicago — which received its own federal funding — would have access to free, weekly COVID-19 SHIELD Illinois testing to help keep students and staff safe, and to support the continuation of in-person learning. The test, which was developed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, requires students to drool into individual tubes, which are then analyzed by SHIELD labs, with most results coming back within 24 hours. The test is able to detect the SARS-CoV-2 and its variants in symptomatic, pre-symptomatic, and asymptomatic individuals, according to the state…Starting in April, about 75% of Illinois public school districts outside of Chicago were eligible for free SHIELD testing, Heller said. Some schools are confident they’ll be able to start SHIELD testing for students soon. Noble Schools in Chicago hopes to begin testing students at its 18 schools next week, which would be the charter schools’ third week of class. Noble started testing staff in April, and is now in the process of collecting waivers from parents so student testing can get underway.”


Chicago’s Mayor Taps CPS Grad And Former Top CPS Official As The Next Schools CEO

By Sarah Karp for WBEZ

“Turning to a non-educator with deep Chicago ties, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot named former Chicago schools official and a current San Antonio schools superintendent Pedro Martinez as the next CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Martinez, who was born in Mexico and raised in Chicago, will be the first permanent Latino leader in the school district’s history, according to the mayor. Lightfoot called Martinez an “historic” choice for a school district that is now half Latino. Martinez referred to himself as an “immigrant kid.” The announcement took place Wednesday morning at Benito Juarez High School in the Pilsen neighborhood. Martinez graduated from Juarez and he credited CPS teachers for seeing “something in me that I couldn’t see myself.” The mayor said he has 28 nieces and nephews attending CPS. He was joined by several family members at the announcement. He also has two children, ages 7 and 11.”


More than 5,600 CPS students ordered to quarantine in first 2 weeks of school year

By Nader Issa for The Chicago Sun-Times

“By the end of the second week of the school year, more than 5,600 Chicago Public Schools students had been directed to quarantine because of potential in-school exposure to COVID-19, according to new data made public Tuesday. Those quarantines represent about 2% of the 290,000 students at non-charter schools, yet they’re almost double the number of students the district had previously identified that have been exposed to the virus. Last week, CPS updated its online COVID-19 tracker to show 2,941 students had been found to be in close contact to an infected person since the first day of classes Aug. 30. But it wasn’t clear exactly how many students were in isolation because only unvaccinated children are required to isolate this year, and CPS officials didn’t list that figure online or respond to requests to provide a specific number.”


With school year underway, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising for Illinois kids

By Joe Mahr & Karen Ann Cullotta for The Chicago Tribune

“Newly released federal and state data shows COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations climbing among Illinois children, along with outbreaks tied to schools, as the state tries to balance limiting the virus’s spread while keeping kids in class. Since July, in all regions of the state, the number of confirmed infections for school-age children has climbed at least through early September, the most recent data available. Downstate regions have seen the biggest spikes. And childhood COVID-19 hospitalizations in Illinois — although still relatively rare — are nearing the levels seen at the peak of past surges. Researchers caution that we don’t know for sure how much of the rise in cases is from more testing, vs. more spread, and we don’t know how much transmission is occurring in schools or elsewhere.”


CPS Makes Gains In Reducing Teacher Vacancies And Hiring More Teachers Of Color

By Sarah Karp for WBEZ

“After consistently struggling with teacher vacancies each fall, Chicago Public Schools started off this year with fewer vacancies and more teachers on staff than it has had in almost a decade, according to data released by school district officials on Friday. School district officials touted the accomplishment and also highlighted progress in hiring more new Black and Latino teachers to better reflect the student body. Lyons highlighted this as a major accomplishment, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Nationally, there is a teacher shortage. The situation is a sharp contrast to a few years ago, when the district budgeted for fewer teacher positions and there were more vacancies. That left some students in classrooms without a permanent instructor or the support they needed all year long. The problem was especially acute with special education and bilingual teachers and in schools that serve children from poor families.”