Schuler Scholars partnering with District 187

October 12, 2011

By Judy Masterson/Lake County News-Sun

Schuler Scholars, a program that prepares low-income, highly motivated high school students for admission to the nation’s top colleges and universities, is coming to North Chicago.

When it opens at North Chicago High School next fall, Schuler, which began at Waukegan High in 2001, will be operating in six schools in Lake County, including Warren Township, Round Lake, Highland Park and St. Martin de Porres in Waukegan.

Schuler Executive Director Candace Browdy said the decision to partner with the North Chicago district was the result of a convergence of community support, a new administrative team and a commitment to turn around the struggling district.

“We’re excited about what we think is going to be a unique opportunity for Schuler and the opportunity to get in on the ground floor with other organizations that are committed to transforming the school district,” said Browdy. “They’re rolling up their sleeves. They realize change is not to going to happen all at once, but they have a very clear vision of how they’re going to affect change over the short term.”

The district, headed by new Superintendent Milt Thompson, agreed to a list of terms in support of Schuler, including the creation of more AP and honors courses, space for the program, and access to school resources, chief among which are administrators, teachers and parents.

“We talked about the rigor of our program, expectations of how the curriculum needs to be involved so it could support a college-going culture — and they didn’t blink,” Browdy said. “They held fast in their belief that they can be as equally committed to that vision as we are.”

New North Chicago High Principal Eric Gallagher is exultant that Schuler, operated by the Lake Forest-based Schuler Family Foundation, is finally coming to his district, which is plagued by some of the highest poverty and lowest achievement rates in the state.

Gallagher worked with Schuler as principal of Magee Middle School in Round Lake. When only seven of his students made the cut in the first year that the program recruited eighth graders, he went to Schuler, found out what went wrong, and worked to boost the number.

“I saw the positive effect Schuler had not only on kids, but on parents and teachers,” Gallagher said. “I saw students striving to get in. Parents sat down with me and asked ‘What do I need to do? How do I get my kid into this program?”

Schuler not only pushes schools to offer the rigorous coursework demanded by highly selective colleges, it also oversees its students’ college counseling and personal development. It offers cultural exposures, summer study trips and sends scholars — and their parents — across the country on all-expense paid trips to visit top schools. And it offers academic coaching and tutoring, as well as a $4,000 scholarship to each graduate.

Schuler will select between 25 and 30 students from Neal Math and Science Academy, North Chicago’s only middle school, for its inaugural class in North Chicago.

“Even students who are not part of Schuler become acutely aware of the importance of a rigorous high school education,” Browdy said. “Our presence helps to change the culture within the school — and within the community.”

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