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Following a charge from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to improve the city’s neighborhood public schools, Northeastern Illinois University quickly became a resource for nearby Amundsen High School. As the new principal of Amundsen, Ana Pavichevich brainstormed ideas to help turn her school around. She quickly recalled the quality faculty and graduates of Northeastern’s College of Education and approached the University for assistance.
Amunden students have struggled with standardized tests, landing the school on probation for more than 10 years. These students, many of whom are Latino, live in the vicinity of Amundsen, located at the intersection of Foster and Damen on Chicago’s Northwest Side.
Maureen Gillette, dean, Northeastern College of Education, was eager to partner with Pavichevich to develop strategies to improve this urban neighborhood school. Gillette and Tim Duggan, associate professor, education inquiry and curriculum studies, agreed to lend their expertise and experience with the faculty at Amundsen.
“Our initial focus was to develop faculty capacity to increase student engagement and higher-level thinking,” said Duggan. He added that the ultimate goal is to improve student learning to the point of preparing each Amundsen student for college.
Gillette added, “We want to help make Amundsen a school of choice for the neighborhood.”
During the 2012-2013 academic year, Gillette, Dugan and Pavichevich initiated their plans. They developed a program focused on professional development for teachers. Northeastern faculty partnered with Amundsen faculty on strategies to increase classroom effectiveness and focused instruction.
Through the collaborative work between Northeastern and Amundsen faculty, new ideas began to surface and develop. Programming was expanded to include opportunities for a two-way exchange of expertise through coordinated field trips, instructional rounds, student placement and discussions. For example, Northeastern faculty and students benefited from a panel discussion in which Pavichevich was a featured speaker. She talked about her daily experiences and addressed the characteristics, knowledge, skills and dispositions future graduates need for work and life in a dynamic city.
“It’s exciting to see the different initiatives that evolve from this partnership,” said Gillette. “It’s also fulfilling to see these programs impact multiple communities, from Amundsen’s teachers and students to Northeastern’s faculty and students.”
Now in its second year, the focus of the plan has shifted to student literacy and close reading, the careful sustained interpretation of a brief passage. Duggan and the Amundsen Literacy Team are assisting teachers in the implementation of initiatives to better help students learn to read and write effectively.
Duggan also is collaborating with Amundsen teachers to develop opportunities for Northeastern student volunteers to assist with a new after-school writing center created by two Amundsen teachers.
“Programs like this are helping to establish a pipeline for greater opportunities for students. I hope it makes them think about college when maybe they haven’t before,” Duggan said.