Hefferan, on the west side of Chicago, boasts (1) a daily attendance rate that exceeds 94 percent, (2) large blocks of training and planning time in the workplace during school hours, and (3) the treatment of teachers as professionals.
Hefferan Elementary School is located in the West Garfield Park neighborhood in Chicago. The school includes approximately 679 students in grades K-8. Patricia Harvey was the principal when the program was originally developed. Denise Little is now the principal. Notable restructuring initiatives include the following:
The school has built an extensive after-school and summer program, plus a well-developed parent involvement program that keeps adults and children working together throughout the building. The school is open for activities until 6 p.m. Daily attendance exceeds 94 percent.
Hefferan has built large blocks of training and planning time into the teachers' schedules in the workplace, during school hours. Teachers are treated as professionals. Parents' talents and those of community volunteers are used to support the work of the school. Decisionmaking in schools in Chicago is the responsibility of the 11 member Local School Councils (LSCs), but at Hefferan the decisionmaking is spread wider and deeper into the school so that meaningful change can happen. The staff and the LSC devised a plan that frees all teachers' time one day a week for team planning and study. As a result, new kinds of teaching and experimentation are taking place, students are enjoying a variety of new experiences, teacher morale and attendance are high, and parent involvement is steadily rising.
Students at Hefferan have four intense days of classroom work each week and a fifth day called Resource Day. On Resource Day, students are involved in art, music, gym, library, and computer lab. The students look forward to Resource Days because of the variety in their schedules and the possibilities for creative and experimental learning experiences. With the faculty divided into five instructional teams, each teacher has one free day per week - the Resource Day for students is a planning and study day for teachers. The Resource Day also is economical, since no substitute teacher pay is needed. Students simply rotate their classes. Security monitors and parent volunteers are present throughout the building to oversee the rotations from class to class.
An important aspect of the program is the treatment of teachers as professionals; the pay-off in staff morale is big. Every classroom has a telephone - a rarity in Chicago public schools (and in schools in general). Teachers may use the phones at their discretion, to communicate with parents, to check on absent children, to call for help in an emergency, to conduct personal business such as making a doctor's appointment, or to check on their own children. Parents also can take advantage of a voicemail service to call their child's teacher and receive recorded suggestions for summer learning activities. During the school year, homework assignments and important announcements are recorded for the use of parents who want to check on their children's work.
The school emphasizes teamwork in planning and cooperative learning for teachers. But improving student learning and achievement are the ultimate goals. Hefferan is dedicated to showing that minority students can learn at acceptable levels, as demonstrated by its motto: "a month for a month" (a month of growth for a month of school). Teachers still assess student learning in fairly traditional ways, but with the full planning day per week they have time to study their results, discuss individual children, and devise new strategies. Teachers also are able to take time to attend conferences and workshops so that they can stay on top of developments in education and technology and remain professionally "refreshed." Hefferan has worked to develop a "fabulous team." Members of this team model cooperative learning among themselves on a daily basis, which helps teachers learn how to do it in their individual rooms. The strength of Hefferan's vision and the school's commitment to professionalism have helped attract just the right teachers to fit special needs and programs, such as a new science lab.
Meanwhile, the school benefits from a large and very stable core of actively involved parents and a Hefferan Alumni Association that plays a crucial role in the school's ability to deliver a wide and varied program of extracurricular activities. Parents and members of the association also tutor children both before and after school. Neighbors volunteer in teaching or helping out with "whatever needs doing." The school is consciously building a broad network of community support.
4409 W. Wilcox
Chicago, IL 60624
This profile is based on a longer article, originally prepared by Susan Klonsky of NCREL, which was supported by the MacArthur Foundation.
Posted on March 6, 1995