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Seeking to determine educatinal methods have proven to work for urban schools and which ones might not, members of The Greater East High Foundation, the principal of East High School, City School administration representatives, and others traveled to Chicago in January, 2005.
One of the primary purposes of the trip was to visit Providence-St. Mel School, a private, independent K-12 school founded in 1978. Previously, it had been a parochial school of the Catholic Archdiocese. Ninety-seven percent of Providence-St. Mel students come from within 3 miles of the school, which is located on Chicago's West Side in one of that city's bleakest neighborhoods. The school selects who it admits through an application process which includes an entrance exam and about 50% of those who enter Providence-St. Mel School become ineligible to continue at the school at some point. But the high standards typically result in 100% of the graduates being accepted to 4-year colleges, including about 80% accepted by "tier one" and Ivy League colleges.
Bill Sehnert, Interim Director of Operations for The Greater East High Foundation, said he believed the Memphis contingent returned with consensus about the lessons demonstrated by the successes they saw in Chicago. He summarized their findings saying "secrets to high performing urban schools are: strong administration that enforces discipline so that there is the correct environment for education; and continuous evaluation of the students and teachers."
One of those with whom the Foundation delegation met was Paul Adams, the founder of Providence-St. Mel School. Mr. Adams told the group that the keys to the school's success are that it focuses on three things: responsibility, role models, and an expectation of success instilled in the students and staff.
Mr. Sehnert said all the things Providence-St. Mel's is doing to achieve its success are transferable to other schools. He also noted that the Chicago school spends $10,000 per student per year, whereas the Memphis City Schools spends $8,500. He pointed out that the cost of living is higher in Chicago than in Memphis and that it appeared successful administration of a high achieving school is not based on expenditure per pupil.
Mr. Sehnert said that sources for student tuition include the students working on Saturdays for the school and from $3-4 million a year from Chicago area businesses which consider it an "investment in tomorrow."
The Memphis delegation also visited Mercy House, an orphanage that is the home of 120 children. Many of the children come from extremely difficult circumstances. Mercy House sends the children to private schools and many are able to overcome their past and become good, contributing members of society. The orphanage's program includes peer to peer counseling with adult guidance and other support systems to help the young people re-enter mainstream society.
Mr. Sehnert said the support of businesses is an important contributor to the successes of both Providence-St. Mel School and Mercy House. He said business leaders will often provide support for worthwhile organizations when the mission is defined, action taken and results measured.
Those on the group on the fact finding visit were Barbara King, East High Principal; David Weaver, East High Junior ROTC Instructor; Margaret Taylor, Consultant to The Greater East High Foundation, former East High teacher, former celebrated principal of Grahamwood Elementary School; James Bacchus, High School Academic Director; Pat Carter, volunteer to the Board of Education; Charlie McVean, The Greater East High Foundation Interim Chairman; and Mr.Sehnert.
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