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No Post-High School Plan, No Diploma: Rahm Touts New Graduation Requirement

By  Heather Cherone Alisa Hauser and Patty Wetli | April 5, 2017 11:08am | Updated on April 7, 2017 11:40am

 ledging to remake the Chicago Public Schools for the 21st century, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said students should be prevented from graduating unless they can prove they have a post-high school plan in place, whether it's acceptance to a university, a trade school or a job offer in hand. 
ledging to remake the Chicago Public Schools for the 21st century, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said students should be prevented from graduating unless they can prove they have a post-high school plan in place, whether it's acceptance to a university, a trade school or a job offer in hand. 
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

NEAR WEST SIDE — Students would be prevented from graduating unless they can prove they have a post-high school plan in place, whether it's acceptance to a university, a trade school or a job offer in hand, under a plan announced Wednesday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The hashtag ready proposal is dubbed "Learn. Plan. Succeed." The idea, part of the mayor's pledge to remake to remake the Chicago Public Schools for the 21st century, is likely to be rubber stamped by the Board of Education made up of members appointed by the mayor.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson said current freshmen — who are set graduate in 2020 — would be the first to be required to provide a plan.

"We are reinventing what high school is," Emanuel said, adding that 80 percent of the jobs available to current students would require at least two years of post college studies.

But it was unclear if the cash-strapped district had the resources to implement another graduation requirement.

Brittany Wilson, a 2016 graduate of Kenwood Academy and student at Harold Washington City College, said her two high school counselors helped her develop a plan to go to college without taking on thousands of dollars in debt.

But Wilson said friends who went to different high schools rarely saw a counselor, and had little help to develop a plan for the day after graduation.

"If they make this requirement, maybe that will help," Wilson said.

Jackson said guidance counselors would be required to get additional training in college counseling, but did not answer a question from DNAinfo Chicago about whether more counselors would be hired.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been cut from Chicago schools during the past several years, and a number of counselors have been laid off across the city, increasing the caseload for those who remain.

"We know that the counseling corps is extremely important in order to pull this off," Jackson said. "We can't announce this and then not support schools and make sure that they have at least one college-advising counselor."

A spokeswoman for the school district did not immediately respond to a request for the number of counselors at each high school and the number of students that are assigned to them.

The kindergarten through 12th grade model has not been relevant for nearly 20 years, said Emanuel, who made the announcement at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Jackson Blvd.

"We are moving to a pre-kindergarten through college model," Emanuel said, flanked by students enrolled in the City Colleges of Chicago who received a Chicago Star scholarship by graduating with at least a B average.

About 60 percent of CPS graduates had a plan in place when they walked across the stage last spring, Jackson said.

All students who graduate from a public Chicago high school are automatically admitted to the City Colleges — which would give students a way to provide school officials with a post-graduation plan and meet the newest requirement.

Chicago would be the first school district in the nation to enforce such a requirement, Emanuel said.

Students would need one of the following under the plan:

• College acceptance letter

• Military acceptance/enlistment letter

• Acceptance at a job training program, like a coding bootcamp

• Acceptance into a trades apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship program

• Acceptance into a "gap-year" program

• Current job or job offer letter.

Amundsen High School Principal Anna Pavichevich said she did not fully understand all of the requirements of Emanuel's proposal but thought that pushing students to think about life after high school was "the right thing to do."

"It seems like something that's doable if we're prepared and we begin the work when students are freshman," Pavichevich said.

The proposal got a low grade from Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd). 

"We all want our CPS kids to have the option to be college bound—but creating more barriers to graduation for kids already struggling with poverty, standardized testing madness and budget cuts at their schools is simply out of touch and wrongheaded," Waguespack said.