Published in the Fall 2008 issue of SSA Magazine
Preparing social workers who are interested in working in public schools has been part of SSA's mission since it began. Chicago Public Schools has also turned to the School as a resource for its research and service. In 1911, for instance, several CPS schools adopted a program devised by the School of Civics and Philanthropy that offered boys released from reform schools a mix of employment and classes. Five years later, Anne S. Davis, a graduate of the School, became the head of the newly formed bureau of vocational supervision in the Chicago Public Schools.
There is probably no time in SSA's history, however, when public education has been as much a focus at the School as today. Faculty members like Charles Payne, Dexter Voisin, and Michael Woolley are examining aspects of what helps student performance in urban schools, and many of SSA's masters students are working at CPS schools for their field placements. Half a dozen SSA students are placed at the selective enrollment high school Jones College Prep this academic year, for example, and Jones just hired two recent SSA grads as the coordinator of its community schools initiative and the director of counseling.
"Every school day you'll find our students at both the masters and doctoral level working in CPS schools all around the city. When they graduate, they have the skills and knowledge to run programs in the building, to be leaders, to work with the kids, to see the whole picture—it's no wonder that SSA grads are in such demand by individual schools and by CPS as administrators," says Melissa Roderick, SSA's Hermon Dunlap Smith Professor.
Roderick founded and for two years served as the first director of CPS's department of planning and development, and, as the co-director at the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research, she continues to have an enormous impact on policy in Chicago schools, particularly around issues of high school success. Her team has produced research that changed CPS's stance on grade retention, helped build an initiative around improving college- attendance rates, and put a floodlight on the importance of the transition to freshman year.
"CPS picked up on our findings about freshmen and introduced an ontrack indicator for students, because success freshman year is so indicative of how students will do in high school— and whether they'll even finish," Roderick says. "This year, CPS has started a freshman lab at some high schools to create strategies to help new students. That's the explicit blueprint we're working from. We do the research to see where things stand and work with CPS on how they can improve the challenges highlighted by our findings."
The research done by Roderick and her colleauges about Chicago's schools often garners attention nationwide. "The Consortium on Chicago School Research is the closest thing we have to a Manhattan Project on urban schools," says Payne, a nationally recognized expert on education reform. The Consortium's latest report on roadblocks for low-income students to apply to and be accepted into college was cited by Senator Dick Durbin in July in his introduction of the Pathways to College Act, legislation that would fund college assistance programming for low-income school districts.
SSA is also well-known nationally for its work promoting and supporting community schools, which provide extra services, classes, and programs to both students and parents during and outside of the school day, often in partnership with local agencies and organizations. More than 170,000 students attend nearly 300 community schools in Illinois. In addition to SSA's masters degree program in community schools, the School co-founded the Federation for Community Schools, which advocates for the schools at the local and federal level and provides technical assistance to its more than 700 members.
"SSA has worked in partnership with CPS on community schools and brought the focus to be more than just after-school programs," Roderick says. "Sarah Duncan [SSA's coordinator of community schools] and her team have helped define a community school as a place that is effective on many levels."