New Perspectives at Perspectives Charter School

Friday, March 1st – This morning Eric and I went to visit Perspectives Charter School – Auburn Gresham Campus.  Perspectives Charter School is one of the older charter school networks in Chicago, and began with a handful of teachers that sought to improve the educational climate after frustrations working in their respective schools.

Auburn Gresham campus is located in the former Calumet High School, in the Auburn Gresham community on the South Side of Chicago. However, during the transition from public school to charter school, the founders of Perspectives Charter School decided to change the name of the building entirely, because of the negative reputation that “Calumet High School” had within the community.  The school itself actually houses three separate schools in the same building that all run under the Perspectives Charter School network: Perspectives Middle Academy, Perspectives High School of Technology, and Perspectives Leadership Academy. The middle school is housed on the first floor, while the two high schools share the second floor. Perspectives Charter School itself is a STEM school network – math and science are both focuses of the curriculum.

Yet, that’s not the thing that stands out the most at Perspectives Charter School. The most distinctive feature of the collective schools together was the way that the staff approached the ethics education of their students – or “scholars” as they are called – via A Disciplined Life (ADL) model. What is ADL? ADL is a set of 26 principles that direct students to develop integrity, responsibility, and other life skills. Such principles include “accept only quality work from yourself” and “love who you are” are communicated throughout the entire school, but especially in ADL classes where these principles are most directly taught and cultivated.

It appears to be having a positive effect on the students. Every time we walked in to a new classroom one of the students would immediately walk up to us, and introduce themselves and the class.  Even little things: a student in the 6th grade mathematics class sneezed, and the entire class, without missing a beat, immediately said “bless you.” Students and school staff share a common language to keep everyone focus on their work. Little sayings known as “slants” are often used. One teacher told the class “Slant 2021” and every student sat up straight and cheered 2021 in unison – representative of the year that each student would graduate from college, another focus of Perspectives.

Perspectives Charter school also operates on an non-traditional school week that promotes teacher collaboration. Class is held 4½ days a week. Monday through Thursday are full days, but Friday is a half day for students, and then teachers attend a mandatory teacher training session for the second half of Friday. This is a space given to teachers to collaborate and share ideas, as well as learn about how to improve their own teaching.

One last thing that was mentioned by the staff at Perspectives Charter School was the demographic and financial standing of the school. As a charter school in the Auburn Gresham area, Perspectives Charter school get about 2/3 the funding that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) receives. To make up for that difference in funding, they conduct their own fundraising programs, and also cannot pay teachers as much as traditional public schools can. As a result, Perspectives largely relies on hiring young teachers, many of them straight out of college, but ensure that these teachers are on board with the Perspectives mission before hiring them. The focus is on using what resources they have to cultivate a culture through passionate staff and staff support.

Overall, we were really excited about the visit, and even got to answer questions for many of the high school students about life at the University of Chicago.  They bring many interesting ideas to the table, and show some of the creative solutions that the charter school model can introduce to the educational field. It would be great to visit again soon!

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