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How One School On The Far South Side Has Utilized The Opportunity Schools Program

9/11/2019, noon | Updated on 9/11/2019, noon
When Principal Cynthia Treadwell took over at Ira F. Aldridge Elementary School just four years ago, she said there was ...
Cynthia Treadwell(left), principal at Ira F. Aldridge Elementary School, and Keya Black (right), a fifth-grade teacher at Ira F. Aldridge Elementary School, said they are thankful to be able to utilize the Opportunity Schools Program. Photo Credit: Katherine Newman

How One School On The Far South Side Has Utilized The Opportunity Schools Program

BY KATHERINE NEWMAN

When Principal Cynthia Treadwell took over at Ira F. Aldridge Elementary School just four years ago, she said there was somewhat of a revolving door at the school. According to information provided by Chicago Public Schools, the high turnover rate had a negative impact on the more than 180 students who attended the school. A level 2+ Chicago Public School, located on 630 E. 131st St. in Riverdale, 90.7 percent of the students at Aldridge Elementary are black.

Thankfully, in 2016, Aldridge Elementary became one of the first schools to receive staffing assistance from the Opportunity Schools Program which was created by Chicago Public Schools to connect hard-to-staff schools with qualified applicants.

“We are considered hard-to-staff and hard-to-retain because of the neighborhood, because of the community, and because of what happens inside the school,” said Treadwell.

Through the Opportunity Schools Program, prospective teachers and staff members are pre-interviewed to determine if they are a good fit for the school and from there, the principal receives several resumes of qualified candidates.

“It’s a great opportunity just because oftentimes if I have a vacancy, I don’t always have a number of qualified candidates that apply. Through this program, we get a plethora of people or resumes that sit in front of us and it gives me an opportunity to really sell my school and what happens at my school to teachers that would not normally be interested,” said Treadwell.

One teacher, in particular, Keya Black, came to Aldridge Elementary, through the Opportunity Schools Program, after losing her position at another school because cuts needed to be made and she was fairly new there. She said that the Opportunity Schools Program has been good for her as a teacher because it gave her stability and has allowed her to become a leader in the school.

“I was always on the chopping block and I was always the first one to go,” said Black. “This program gave me the assurance that it’s going to be okay and that won’t happen again because Aldridge needs me. Not because nobody else wants to teach those kids, but because I have the capacity to be an amazing teacher here and add to this building,” said Black.

Stability and job security are important to the teachers but even more than that, it impacts the students to see the same teachers return year after year and show that they are invested in the students and their education, according to Black.

“It means an absolute lot to these kids. All of our kids here at Aldridge live in the neighborhood and the neighborhood itself is pretty small and tight-knit. The kids in third grade, they know when they get to the fifth grade, they’re going to be with Miss Black and they really look forward to that,” said Black.