A dramatic story is unfolding on Chicago’s South Side, but it’s not the one we’re most familiar with — the heartbreaking gang violence that terrorizes residents of all ages and traumatizes entire neighborhoods.
This is a good news story about something that’s going right, and the lessons we can learn from the positive experience.
It centers on Lindblom High School, a one-time educational gem in West Englewood that bottomed out a decade ago but came roaring back to reclaim its old glory as a beacon of opportunity for its students and staff, and a symbol of pride for its neighbors and alumni network.
Lindblom is our latest “Good Government Spotlight” — a regular BGA feature that highlights public officials who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to serving the citizens of Illinois.
Since 2005, when the comeback began, Lindblom principal Alan Mather has worked along two parallel tracks:
- With an eye toward attracting top students and convincing parents to send their children there, he designed a creative academic program that distinguishes Lindblom from many other CPS high schools.
The curriculum features challenging and interesting electives, including language classes in Mandarin and Arabic, and an academic center that enrolls seventh and eighth-graders looking for an educational challenge.
- At the same time, Mather sought to repair and rebuild relations with nearby schools and local community leaders.
As a result, Lindblom is now viewed as an integral part of West Englewood, not an isolated island.
But this is not a one-man success story, even though Mather recently won a Golden Apple award for educational excellence.
He credits the turnaround to the support of CPS and its administrators; the dedication of his teachers and students; and the commitment of many others who’ve advocated for Lindblom.
And if social media is any indication, there’s no shortage of affection, enthusiasm and good will toward the school.
Since we posted the profile online a week ago, it’s prompted more than 3,100 “likes” on Facebook and 65 comments — an unprecedented response to a BGA story.
Many of the posts come from proud alums who rave about the school, voice support for the current administration’s efforts, shout out to their graduating class or reaffirm the positive impact Lindblom’s had on their lives.
Other posts are from parents of Lindblom students who applaud the school for making a difference in their children’s lives.
One says: “Mather has done an outstanding job with Lindblom. My son was a 2013 graduate. He and his friends are sailing through college …”
That’s music to our ears because we’re talking about a public school that was close to shuttering a decade ago.
Lindblom didn’t survive, and then thrive, by becoming a charter, a magnet or an elite quasi-suburban educational enclave, but by striking a unique chord as a “selective enrollment” high school that’s become an increasingly popular destination for bright neighborhood students who can test in.
In fact, the scores of entering freshman have improved more dramatically over the past four years than all but one selective enrollment high school in Chicago.
In the mix of educational options, charters and magnets have their place, along with private and religious institutions, and they’re often seen as preferable to regular CPS schools.
But maybe it’s not about how you label a school, or what entity manages it, or whether the employees are in unions.
Maybe it’s about the educational magic that’s possible when a strong principal with dedicated teachers, an enlightened curriculum and involved parents create a rich, safe learning environment for students.
What’s happening inside Lindblom’s South Side walls should be examined closely by city and community leaders, and not viewed as an outlier, or a “one-off” that’s only possible with a charismatic leader.
It’s true the turnaround of one high school, no matter how impressive, can’t eliminate gang problems, erase poverty, or cure the high unemployment that plagues the inner city.
But if the Lindblom formula can be replicated in other city schools, we should go for it.
Because every youngster in Chicago deserves a fair chance to go to the head of the class.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-386-9097.
Image credit: Lindblom High School / webapps.cityofchicago.org