On Tuesday, Oct. 8, Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan announced his recommendation for the third school for the Austin High School campus.
Duncan spoke during a press conference at Polaris Charter Academy, 620 N. Sawyer Ave., about his intention to recommend the proposal of VOISE, one of two proposals made by educators to reinvigorate Austin. VOISE (Virtual Opportunities Inside a School Environment) would, according to the proposal, “integrate technology into the classroom to provide students with enriched learning environments.”
Duncan recommendation for the new school reflects the Austin Transition Advisory Council’s (TAC) own suggestion after months of considering two separate conceptual proposals for the new school.
The VOISE school would be added to the Austin campus, 231 N. Pine Ave., following approval of a conceptual and budget plan. The Austin TAC began in early spring overlooking the structural, academic and practical merits of the proposals for the third school. The new school would be the third small school opened at the Austin campus under the Renaissance 2010 plan, joining Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy and Austin Polytechnical Academy.
The VOISE school would offer a basic high school curriculum with courses that would be online.
“There would be an instructors at the site assisting the students with the online work,” said Dwayne Truss, a member of the Austin TAC.
The school would seek to fill between 140 and 150 slots in the first school year. At capacity it would hold around 550 students.
“Instead of a blackboard they would have a laptop,” said James Deans of the TAC committee.
The students in the VOISE program would be able to do assignments online with the option of working at their own pace. There would be school groups, sports and cheerleaders clubs like a regular school as well.
Each student would also be allowed to obtain a desktop computer for their home use as well giving them 24-hour access to assignments.
“The teacher would put the curriculum and assignments on the website and the students must complete them,” said Deans. “She will be there if they have difficulty, and they can work as much as they want, even when school is not in session.”
However, if students have the access to the teachers’ lesson plans from home, what is to prevent the school from being burdened by serious truancy issues?
“Representatives associated with the school said that they will have a zero tolerance when it comes to attendance, but that is a concern of the Council,” said Truss.
In the event of a power outage, students would be allowed to receive hard copies of all assignments and VOISE would also plan to make arrangements with local libraries and community organizations to allow students evening access to their online facilities in the event the computers at home are not accessible.
Another one of the concerns regarding the VOISE proposal is funding. The school would need to come up with money to pay for both the laptop computers at the school and the desktop computers for home use. Most of this funding would come from the Board of Education.
The Board of Education rejected the proposal to open an Amandla Charter School, which envisioned a fifth- through 12th-grade college preparatory school at the Austin campus.
“There are plenty of college preparatory schools in Chicago. For example, Michele Clark is such a school,” said Deans. “But this would be the first school of its kind that would begin preparing students for college in grade school.”
Like VOISE, the school would have sought to open with 125-150 students upon its opening and fill to a capacity of 550. However, under the guidelines of its plans, it would be required to include one ninth-grade class of 30 students.
The problem with Amandla, according to TAC committee members, was its plan of incorporating a middle school and a high school under the umbrella of a stringent charter school curriculum.
That model seemed better suited to an independent school rather than one sharing a campus with other institutions.
The fact that the Amandla proposal also guaranteed 100 percent college by graduates seemed to be a claim that would be hard to prove, according to TAC members.
The Office of New Schools is planning to hold formal community hearing about the VOISE school at Austin on Thursday, Oct. 11 at the Austin Campus at 6 p.m.