LOOKING UP: Douglass Academy officials are trying to improve the schools' rating. | Image courtesy of Google Earth

Douglass Academy High School’s new principal, Dr. Abdul Muhammad, is looking to improve the school’s academic rating even as lower-than-projected enrollment could mean budget cuts and layoffs.

The principal is launching a strategy to make the school more attractive to families by raising its rating from Level 3 to Level 2. According to the CPS website, the district uses a five-level rating scale, with Level 1+ being the highest, Level 3 being the lowest possible and Level 2 being the rating right above that. 

Chicago Public Schools district sets school budgets based on the number of students who attend. The figure principals get during the summer is based on the number of students expected to attend. A few weeks later, that number gets readjusted based on how many students actually enroll and stay enrolled.

During a Sept. 19 Douglass High School Local School Council meeting, Muhammad said that this school year, the district had 10 freshmen and a total of 102 students — 30 less than originally projected. The resulting budget cut, he said, would be significant enough to require him to lay off an unspecified number of employees, but he hopes that with CPD getting more state funding the district may decide not to make any funding cuts.

Declining enrollment has been an ongoing issue at Douglass, whose budget would have been cut compared to last year even if the school’s actual enrollment matched projections. This school year, Douglass got $1,574,190 in funding — $374,142 less than last school year. Even though enrollment was below projection, the fact that it has more than 100 students means that it’s not currently in danger of closing.

In spite of the budget reduction, Muhammad made one hire, bringing on an additional security guard.

“We didn’t have security [on site] all day,” he explained. “Our day ends at 6 p.m. For us to cover all day, we didn’t have anybody for afternoon time. That person will start tomorrow, and we have a whole day covered without overtime.”

But now that enrollment is below projections that could be reversed, with the school possibly cutting positions due to cuts. 

Muhammad said that, as of Sept. 19, CPS hasn’t taken any action and he still held out hope that it wouldn’t. Two years earlier, he said, the district didn’t take money from the schools because “all schools were hurting.” With CPS getting $400 million in state funds to help cover pension obligations, Muhammad hopes that it would be inclined to do the same this time around.

LSC member Catherine Jones also held out hope to extra funds.

“Last year, they gave us money for recruitment,” she said. “Maybe they’ll let us keep it and [give us money to] recruit again.”

Muhammad said he wouldn’t know for sure what the district would do until Oct. 10. In the meantime, he’s focusing on raising Douglass’s rating. 

To do it, the school would need to keep all freshmen on track to graduation, increase average SAT scores by 1 to 5 percent, get the rate of student attendance up from last year’s 79 percent to at least 85 percent, reduce the drop-out rate, get the high school graduation rate to 55 percent and ensure that at least 45 percent of students are accepted to a college or a university.

“It would be easy to get them 100 percent on track [to graduation], if we really wrap our arms around the students,” Muhammad said.

The principal readily acknowledged that the goals seemed modest, but he said he was trying to be realistic about what could be accomplished.

“I don’t want you to think those are lofty goals,” he said. “These are realistic goals based on where we were last year. It’s just realistic to say, ‘If we had negative growth and negative attainment last year, then our goal is to get us to Level 2.'” 

LSC member Craig Moore said that even if they are realistic goals, he wanted the staff to encourage students to strive for more.

“What I would suggest is that these be internal goals for the staff,” he said. “On the outside, for the students, I would push for higher [goals]. Say we believe in them.”

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com  

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...

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