Sunday, July 05, 2009

From excellence to exodus, Harlan strives for rebirth Part 1


Yesterday, I decided to peruse the home page of my high school alma mater, Harlan Community Academy. For the most part I keep it vague about where I went to school perhaps save for one time. I blogged a story in year one about a shooting that took place within the school. It caused me to post a couple of blogs at The Sixth Ward about Harlan as they have a NING group, a blog, and even a Twitter account.

Awesome news I though as I found those thru their compilation of links, more specifically their "in the news" links, an article from the Dec. 2001 issue of Catalyst Chicago. This website's beat is Chicago's public schools.

Anyway this article, gives a good time line of events which brings you to roughly the time I started to attend the school. First in excerpting this article let's look at some background these numbers are from 2001:
Harlan High School stands on a tree-lined street across from a row of tidy bungalows in Roseland. With its clean brick walls and park-side location, it hardly fits the image of an urban school of last resort.

Yet that’s what it has become. Last year, Harlan lost 77 percent of Chicago public high school students in its attendance area—a total of 1,529—to other Chicago public high schools. That’s the highest “defection rate” in the city.

An 8th-grader at a nearby elementary school puts it bluntly: “Most people who come out of here, if they don’t make the score, they go to Harlan,” she says, meaning grade-level scores on standardized tests. “If they made the score, they go to CVS or Simeon or Hyde Park—any other high school.”
Then what happened to make Harlan from a premier school with an incredible faculty to one which may be considered a school of last resort?
Harlan’s decline was gradual and, by most accounts, began in the mid-1970s. Middle-class Roseland was growing poorer, and the once integrated neighborhood was rapidly losing white residents. Still, the school attracted its share of good students, veteran teachers recall.

At the time, the alternatives were several vocational schools and two elite technical schools. “Permissive transfers” also allowed students to attend schools where they would improve racial balance. For the most part, though, Chicago public high school students of the ‘70s stayed in their own neighborhoods.

Like many South Side high schools, Harlan was desperately overcrowded. The building was designed to house about 1,300 but enrolled some 3,500 students. Twenty-six mobile units stood out back, teachers recall.

The first blow to Harlan’s reputation came disguised as a blessing. To relieve overcrowding, the district opened two new high schools on the Far South Side, Corliss in 1974 and Julian in 1975. Harlan students were given the option of attending either. They left in droves.
Now we go back to perhaps how Harlan became the school to go to in the first place and then when Corliss and Julian opened, they were new and people wanted to be a part of those schools. Although these days Corliss or even Julian probably aren't considered premier schools themselves. Then again this might have something to do with the sudden exodus of bright students from Harlan in the mid 1970s:
Albert Foster, the district’s recently retired director of school intervention, attended Harlan in its glory days (Class of 1962). A March 1999 visit to the school left him deeply discouraged. For one, the building was in terrible disrepair: missing hall tiles, beat-up desks, plexiglass windows that had grown opaque, broken heating ducts that left classrooms cold.
...
Former Harlan teacher and school alum Janice Ollarvia, now principal of Fenger High School, thinks students were attracted by superior facilities at the new schools. “Harlan was built when they were tossing schools up, and the quality of the construction wasn’t that good,” she explains. “It soon started to show.”
If you thought "community academy" would you think private school? In fact when I talk about where I went to school that's exactly the response I get, but the reality is:
Magnet schools came next. Whitney Young opened in 1975, became a selective magnet school in 1980 and drew top students from across the city. Then in the early 1980s, the district launched magnet programs to attract students of different races to segregated high schools. Harlan’s neighboring high schools got programs in computer science or communications or literature and history, but Harlan was designated a “community academy” that would stress basic skills.

As fewer top students opted for Harlan during the ‘80s, the school’s Advanced Placement offerings in English, math, history, biology and chemistry dwindled to none, [computer teacher Jack] Oehmen recalls.
Would low-achievers make for students who might do sports teams?
Sports teams suffered, too. “You might think: Give me a school of low-achievers, and I’ll have a heck of a sports team,” Foster remarks. “No you won’t. Those kids don’t go out for sports … don’t go out for clubs. Then your school doesn’t have much in offerings.”
Oops!

You know I wrote about a classmate's comments on our former principal. The article touched upon this in fact an update on the fate of our former principal, but this article is starting to get long winded so therefore I shall continue this. Don't let me forget now!

We might look at more on the leadership at the school because perhaps in our day it sure needed it. The next question is what's happening at the school now. I explore that more tomorrow!

BTW, the pic of Harlan at night is mine and it's an old pic taken about three or so years ago. The Harlan logo is lifted directly from the Harlan website.

1 comment:

Diane said...

I was born in Roseland, went to Brenan grade school, now Alex Haley Academy and never realized there was any other high school in Roseland except Fenger.

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