Dr. Blondean Davis, CEO of Southland College Prep Charter High School ( center, pointing) leads members of the Illinois State Board of education on a tour of the three-year-old school that serves south suburbs. (PHOTO SUPPLIED)
RICHTON PARK, IL—November 1, 2012—Members of the Illinois State Board of Education interacted with administrators, faculty and students of Southland College Prep Charter High School on Tuesday at a regularly scheduled public meeting at the new three-year-old public charter secondary school that serves nine south suburban communities.
The site visit was “a fulfillment of the Board’s commitment to visit as many schools as possible throughout the state and to be available to the community’s citizens,” Gery J. Chico, board chair, explained.
Prior to a public session, ISBE members were guided on a top to bottom tour of the new school’s classrooms, laboratories, technology centers, library and public areas by Dr. Blondean Davis, Southland’s CEO, who worked closely with south suburban business leaders, civic officials, educators and parents to realize the community’s dream to create the only public charter secondary school to serve Chicago suburbs and one of a few such schools in Illinois outside of Chicago.
ISBE members were welcomed to the campus by Ronald Bean, chair of the Southland College Prep Charter High School board and Dr. Davis, who also is superintendent of Matteson District 162.
“At Southland, all of our 375 students are focused on completing secondary school, entering and graduating from a college of their choice,” she said. In the 2013-14 academic year, Southland will reach its maximum enrollment of 500 students set by the ISBE.
Two faculty members, Brian Wales of the Mathematics department and Julie Obradovic, who leads the World Language department, described central themes of Southland’s academic mission and goals in brief remarks to the board.
Members of the charter chapter of Southland’s National Honor Society welcomed the board with a recitation of Southland’s creed that opens every school day and two of its members, juniors Alexus Newson and Ian Katiku, shared observations on their experiences at Southland.
Noting that at Southland, “we strive to affect positive change by maintaining a high level of student accountability,” Wales added, and, we never let off the accelerator when it comes to rigor.”
Wales, who is the math focus group coordinator, National Honor Society advisor and the boys bowling coach, explained that Southland’s approach to student success is through instructional and academic rigor.
“Our approach is to maintain a strict curricular pace for all our students and to adjust that depending on student level and needs. This is central to being a truly rigorous school that influences student success well into college,” Wales said.
Southland uses a range of educational tools to evaluate students’ performance and to place them into focus groups. All of the school’s students have 90 minutes of math and 90 minutes of English every class day. Half the time is spent on content building with tutorial support and the balance of the time is spent focusing on any gaps in previous content, he said.
“We use project based learning models that allow students to view, explore and discover the content that they missed or misunderstood. Then, there is more analysis and evaluation of the content by the students,” Wales said.
“To maintain our rigorous curriculum,” Wales said, “we require mastery of gaps before the next gap is addressed. We’ve seen remarkable increases in student motivation and performance on previous gaps and current content in our math focus program.”
“We believe that students will always rise to the level of expectation placed before them and our expectations are high! To maintain the level of expectation, teachers collaborate, analyze and remain critical of their own delivery design in the classroom and never leave any content mastery to chance,” Wales said.
Southland students will be successful because we refuse to allow them to fail. We’ll always provide every opportunity for their success and always require higher expectations,” he said.
Describing her approach as a world language teacher, Obradovic noted, “I have the privilege of teaching history, geography, geology, art, music, literature, poetry and anthropology, often in one day!”
“I teach a class where I actually want my students to talk all the time,” the Spanish language teacher said.
As a third generation English, Irish Austrian American woman who is married to a first generation Croatian American, whose brother-in-law is a first generation Mexican American, my children and their first cousins are “members of a truly modern family. Multicultural families are the reality and the future of our society and our world. We live the importance of cultural sensitivity every day,” she said.
Noting that at Southland College Prep students are required to complete four years of language learning to graduate, Obradovic stated that, “if the purpose of education is to enlighten humanity and eradicate ignorance and injustice in the world, then the study of world culture and languages is without question our most important subject.
“World language promotes cultural awareness and competency. It’s an honor for me to be a part of the pursuit of such a noble goal at this new school,” she said.
Reflecting on her experience at Southland, Newson admitted that initially she didn’t match her parents “enthusiasm” for the new school, but that has changed.
“Southland has helped mold me into a stronger student, academically and socially. Southland has given me an environment where there is a strong sense of value and much more.
“My teachers are really innovative in their curriculum and there are many different hands-on projects that embrace our academic experience,” she said.
Newson praised “the personal bond between my peers, teachers and administrators that is a true blessing, something that I wouldn’t have received in any other school.” She praised Dr. Davis’ pursuit of a dream “to build a school that offered more than an average curriculum, environment and teachers who genuinely care.”
Describing his fears about entering high school with visions of “fights, pregnancies and social pressure, I comforted myself that it would all be over at 3 p.m.,” said Katiku.
“You can imagine how I felt when I heard about Southland, a high school with nine-hour days and uniforms and where I would be a stranger.
“However, after three years of attending this school, I learned that my trepidation was misplaced.
“Here I’m able to achieve all of my potential in an environment that is dedicated to learning. There are many rules here at Southland, but these rules are the reason my classmates and I will be very ready to enter college,” he said.
Admitting that “sometimes I get kicked out of school for staying after too long,” Katiku said that Southland’s size allows us more time with our teachers and fosters a closer bond between us, creating a family atmosphere. While some schools value sports and others value fashion, here we have a chance to place academics at the top of the social pyramid. Our class has been granted the power to determine what Southland students strive to be – peer pressure can be positive,” Katiku said.
Southland College Prep Charter High School selects its students by public lottery who are graduates of an elementary school and who reside in: Country Club Hills, Flossmoor, Hazel Crest, Homewood, Matteson, Olympia Fields, Park Forest, Richton Park and Tinley Park.