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Supporting Clusters: Consistent Educational Quality from Preschool through High School

Within one city, an individual student can encounter dramatic inconsistencies in access to quality education within his or her own preschool through high school experience. Disparate school improvement efforts and academic supports may be applied unevenly across the continuum of a student’s education, and these inconsistencies can jeopardize the benefit to the very students they aim to help. In response, programs and policy-makers have explored clustering school improvement efforts in a community or around a high school and its feeder elementary schools to foster more consistent access to quality schools for a student’s entire educational path.

Through its grant making, CFP’s education portfolio aims to advance a cohesive, high quality school and student support system that ensures students receive consistent high quality education at every stage, focused ultimately on college and career success. To advance this work, CFP made its first intentional cluster of grants to a set of schools in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL).

The cluster groups complimentary school and students supports around a high school and its four feeder elementary schools to better ensure students have consistent access to quality schools with targeted supports for their entire education.  Several grantees from CFP’s portfolio collaborate in the school improvement efforts in the cluster of schools, deepening impact on the schools and the students they serve. Some of the work supported by the cluster efforts include:

  • Applying research that shows children who participate in quality, full-day preschool (pre-K) programs make significant achievement gains compared to their non-participating peers. To help better prepare students for kindergarten and success throughout their academic journey, the North Lawndale Cluster supported the conversion of the cluster schools’ half-day pre-K programs to 16 classrooms now serving pre-k students for the full school day.
  • Partnering with the Erikson Institute to provide research-based, high-quality professional development and supports to teachers, instructional coaches and school leaders during the transition to full-day pre-K. The 16 pre-K cluster teachers receive 60 hours of training and coaching in early education practices annually.
  • Responding to the unique needs of students in the cluster who need individualized attention through targeted academic and social-emotional interventions. City Year, UCAN and LAMP are among several partners in the cluster providing dedicated and consistent supports to students and teachers from pre-K through the 12th grade.
  • Preparing all students for college and career success. Supplemental college success programs supported in the cluster include college visits, Umoja College Readiness programming, and READ180 literacy intervention.  Counselors, teachers and school leaders have been trained in the effective use and application of the Urban Education Institute’s To & Through reports and tools.
  • Enhancing AUSL’s rigorous school improvement curriculum with consistent access to quality arts instruction through dynamic collaborations with Chicago’s cultural institutions and arts education partners.
  • Evaluating the outcomes of the clustered supports. The Consortium for School Research at the University of Chicago is conducting a multi-year study of the Cluster to understand the impact on student outcomes associated with the primary components of the Cluster model.

For all students, particularly students from under-resourced communities, taking two steps forward only to take one step back with inconsistent access to quality schools and supports can be incredibly frustrating and unproductive. The cluster is exploring efforts that provide thoughtful and consistent quality education from preschool through high school that establish a strong academic foundation and a steadfast, powerful continuum of learning for students.