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CPS Teachers Pitch Ideas for Transforming Education

By Juan Thompson | August 7, 2013 8:55am
 The team from Budlong Elementary School.
The team from Budlong Elementary School.
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DNAinfo/Juan Thompson

HYDE PARK — Teachers and administrators from 16 Chicago public schools gathered at the University of Chicago Tuesday to present their solutions for closing the achievement gap at their schools.

The Summer Design Program was hosted by The Chicago Public Education Fund, a nonprofit organization that gives private donations to innovative principals and teachers who are looking to reinvent the classroom experience.

Teams of teachers, principals and administrators from various CPS schools spent the summer working on proposals to impress the experts and philanthropists before them.

Schools selected by the fund will receive up to $10,000 to implement their proposals for the coming school year.

"We're pushing a community agenda and an interdisciplinary approach with literacy and environmentalism," said Naomi Nakayama, who is in her first year as principal of Lyman A. Budlong Elementary School in Lincoln Square.

The Budlong project envisions allowing students, through the use of technology, to self-explore the subject of environmentalism.

Budlong administrators are also hoping the effort will lift their students' literacy rates as well, given the strong reading component included.

The funds would do a number of practical things for Budlong teachers and the other possible recipients. The money could be used, for example, to let teachers travel to other schools and see how other teachers are transforming the conventional classroom experience.

It could be used to buy laptops and iPads — or what the educators called "1-on-1 devices."

"We want to invest in our teacher capacity and allow other teachers to use technology the way we have," teacher Jamila Leonard said.

Leonard teaches kindergarten at the National Teachers Academy in the South Loop and said 100 percent of her students last school year had met the college-ready formula used by CPS, thanks in part to her use of technology.

Most of the 70 educators at the event hailed from schools that are overwhelmingly minority, low-income and struggling to overcome immense obstacles.

The teams will find out in two weeks if they receive funding, organizers said.

When asked how Budlong would bring its plan to fruition if the project does not receive funds, Nakayama and her team were undeterred.

"We will figure out a way. We may not have all the fancy tools. But we'll make due with what have. We always do," she said.