Links to relevant web sites
"school within the school"
June 4, 2005
Dear Alumni and Friends of East High School:
The Greater East High Foundation has learned several lessons in this past semester's process of trial and error. First, we now know that we are confronted with a difficult, but not impossible situation. East High School reached its current problematic state as the result of a thirty-year process of relentlessly compounding erosion. As our friend Barbara King, our sixth principal in eight years, learned, such a trend can take on a life of its own and become virtually intractable. Time was not on Barbara's side. To prevail, we must patiently pick small battles we can win and refrain from trying to undo in one year what was done over several decades.
Accordingly, we first plan to establish a modest beachhead. This starting point will be a "school within the school" named The East High Enrichment Academy. We will focus exclusively on the teaching of English, math, and science to about two hundred and fifty seventh and eighth graders. We already know that most of these students are basically good kids who simply need more individual help and support than they have had in the past. This process will take place during and after school hours in a carefully supervised and secure area in the east wing of our building. Our goal at this time is to recruit one hundred adult volunteers to work within our academy as tutors, advisors, and parental liaisons.
Also, through experiment and study, we have arrived at a definitive operating strategy. We will always and everywhere focus on three primary considerations: A) Teaching Power, B) Discipline, and C) Accountability.
A. Teaching Power
Our concept of Teaching Power encompasses both the quality and quantity of our teachers. On the East faculty, we have a number of excellent teachers but not as many as we need. We supplemented the faculty this past year with our own staff and the first forty-seven of our 20/20 Vision Student Tutors. These students from the top twenty percent of the upper classes are paid $10 per hour to tutor less advanced and younger "scholars," mostly on a one-to-one basis. We strongly believe in this simple concept of paid peer tutors, which is the cornerstone for our program. In combination with the East faculty, our Foundation staff, and a new group of adult volunteers, our student tutors will provide a massive increase in the "Teaching Power" devoted to the seventh and eighth grades at East. Our Director Emeritus Margaret Taylor, who was recognized as The National Educator of The Year in 1991 by the Clinton Administration, is certain that this enhanced Teaching Power will drive meaningful improvement in the English, math, and science proficiency of our seventh and eighth grade students. We will work with our students for one class period during each school day, and then for one hour after school Monday through Thursday.
At the outset of our program, we determined to visit several model high schools serving underprivileged inner city youth. It turned out that a former business partner of mine, Thomas Dittmer, has been a substantial contributor to, and has served as Chairman of the Board of Trust of Providence St. Mel's School in Chicago, Illinois. Our group visited St. Mel's, its principal, Jeanette DiBella, and its founder, Paul Adams. St. Mel’s is in an awfully rough part of Chicago, and draws all of its kids from within a two-mile radius. Nonetheless, St. Mel's sends one hundred percent of its graduates to college and sixty percent to tier one universities. For our money, it is the finest school of its kind in the United States of America. Consequently, we looked no further. Subsequently, we made a meaningful contribution to their Foundation in appreciation for the day spent at their school, and to feel comfortable in seeking further help and advice in the future. It was Jeanette DiBella who told us repeatedly that "It's all about the teachers, the discipline, and accountability," St. Mel's simply expels students who will not follow their rules. Believe me, their students know what to expect if they do not behave properly. St. Mel's is private so it has the absolute right to ask a student to leave its program. The East High Enrichment Academy is also private and therefore it also retains this same right to dismiss students from its program as a final and ultimate disciplinary action. We cannot ask a student to leave East High School, but we can deny a student's participation in our proprietary programs. Crucially however, we must recognize that participation in our program is voluntary on behalf of the kids and their parents. Therefore, we have a big and vital sales job to do with each family. Here we are counting on heavy support from our adult volunteers. Many times we have seen that a high percentage of these kids show an amazingly positive response to the slightest bit of unexpected adult attention and encouragement. We expect the same positive reaction from a meaningful percentage of parents once they learn that our Foundation has a genuine interest in helping their children prepare for a better life. We must make every effort to engage as many parents as possible as active partners with our East High Enrichment Academy. This mission can be accomplished only through extensive personal contact. Obviously, this would be an impossibility without the support of a large volunteer group.
Each six weeks our students will be given standardized tests so that we can evaluate each of them, as well as their respective tutors. Awards will be given when deemed appropriate by the Foundation staff. At the end of this school year, for example, we just awarded $23,000 to a group of our top tutors and scholars. Our goal is to achieve a dramatic improvement in the standardized TCAP test results of our seventh and eighth graders next spring compared to the benchmark of this year's results. At that critical juncture, we will take stock of the Foundation's progress.
At the Greater East High Foundation, we believe that a school system can only be improved one school at a time, and that each school must be improved one student at a time. Furthermore, we believe that a private Foundation working with reasonable autonomy, and yet within the public infrastructure, will prove to be an extraordinarily cost effective format for improving our school system. Our experiment with this proposition began at East High School in the Spring of 2005 with about $250,000, seven professional staff, forty-seven 20/20 Vision Student Tutors, and approximately one hundred "scholars." According to Director Emeritus, Margaret Taylor, "We accomplished a lot more this first semester than I had hoped. Properly supervised, our peer tutoring program really worked and it will only get bigger and better."
We are now asking our alumni and friends to seriously consider volunteering their time, effort, and expertise as we begin to scale up our operation in this coming school year. Those interested in joining our mission may call our director. Bill Sehnert, or other members of our professional staff at 901-761-8463. We need one hundred adult volunteers to complement our East High faculty, student tutors and professional staff in reaching a critical mass of "Mustang Teaching Power."
Charles D. McVean
Chairman of The Greater East High Foundation
INSTILLING THE AMERICAN WORK ETHIC
• The Extended Family Unit •
• The 20/20 Vision Tutorial Program •
• The Real Competition for Real Rewards •