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Amundsen Eyes Strategies to Move off Probation

By Patty Wetli | February 14, 2013 1:31pm

LINCOLN SQUARE — Amundsen High School has been on probation for the last 11 years, failing to meet Chicago Public School's standards of performance and progress, but the school's first-year principal is aiming to fix that.

"The stakes are very high for me to get this school off of probation — emotionally, morally, personally and professionally," said principal Anna Pavichevich.

At Wednesday night's meeting of Amundsen's Local School Council, she had good news to report: student attendance is up significantly, as is the percent of freshmen on track to graduate in four years. At the same time, the drop-out rate has been slashed nearly in half to 2.9 percent, down 2.7 percent from end of school year 2012.

All three are measures CPS takes into account when determining a school's performance level. Amundsen, 5110 N. Damen Ave., is currently a Level 3, the lowest ranking.

"These figures would put us well into Level 2," said Pavichevich. "It's important for us to sustain our efforts."

Amundsen has achieved Level 2  — or good standing — before, but failed to maintain the rank for the mandatory two consecutive years required to be taken off probation.

"We can't go backwards on anything," Pavichevich said.

Which was precisely the main item on the LSC's agenda.

The council is in the midst of conducting its first performance evaluation of Pavichevich. In addition to rating her against a standard set of measures provided by CPS, the group aimed to develop its own forward-looking criteria, creating goals for the 2013-14 school year and beyond.

"The first step is establishing a vision of what a high school off probation looks like," said Scott Reed, LSC teacher representative.

His proposal, well received by Pavichevich and other LSC members, was to develop a comprehensive, school-wide literacy program, a technique he said has been effective in turning around other urban high schools.

"Anna's done a pretty good job of opening people up to change," said Reed. "We're in much better position to effect something radical than we were before."

For nearly 1 ½ hours, the council brainstormed additional "soft skills" they feel will be key to Pavichevich's success as a leader: engagement, consistency, transparency and curiosity, among others.

The council's next task is to translate those desired skills into quantifiable actions and then to submit the evaluation by May 1.

Though boosting the school's standing is of paramount importance — high schools were exempt from the current round of closings, but that's not always the case — Pavichevich urged the team to keep in sight the school's primary mission.

"We're developing living, breathing human beings," she said. "We have to be well-rounded in our approach to supporting them."