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Chicago Board To Request Proposals for Small Schools

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The new managers of the Chicago school system will issue requests for proposals this week to open small schools and strengthen those already operating in the city.

Creating small schools is a priority of the system's board of trusteessic, which endorsed the strategy last month in a formal resolution.

In appointing the trustees and the corporate-style management team that began governing the system this summer, Mayor Richard M. Daley also backed the creation of small schools.

Although Chicago teachers and reform advocates have set up some 40 small schools in 20 buildings, the district's solicitation of plans for such schools marks the first time it has formally stepped forward to help them get off the ground.

"It's been a long, long struggle," said William C. Ayers, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has been active in opening small schools. "This is just one chapter in that struggle. I wouldn't characterize it as the ultimate victory, but it's a strong step in the right direction."

Most of the small schools that have been founded in Chicago are elementary schools. High schools have proven harder to reorganize, Mr. Ayers noted.

One request for proposals calls for establishing a "small-schools multiplex" in the building that formerly housed Cregier High School, which closed recently. The site, on the West Side of Chicago, is expected to house five elementary schools with between 200 and 350 students each. These new schools are on a tight time line--classes would begin next February.

Another request calls more generally for bids to create small schools across the city and pledges to help them find space, link them with people who can provide assistance, provide planning grants, and make money available to make the physical changes necessary to give small schools an identity in large buildings. New schools opened as a result of the citywide bids would open next September.

25 New Schools Expected

John Ayers, the executive director of Leadership for Quality Education, a business-backed reform group that has pushed for small schools, and a brother of William Ayers, said he expects the system will create 25 small schools this academic year.

Small schools--with no more than about 350 elementary students and 500 secondary students--have been found to increase attendance rates and decrease violence and discipline problems. Both are major barriers to achievement in urban schools.

When organized properly, the schools also allow teachers to lead the way in developing curriculum, assessing students, and managing schools. What's more, they provide nurturing environments for students, who are encouraged to take responsibility for their learning by adults who know them well.

Creating smaller schools also is one of the priorities of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a five-year $49.2 million effort to improve schools underwritten by the Annenberg Foundation.

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