This morning I toured Carrie Busey Elementary School on Kirby Road near the Mattis Intersection and Old Farm Shoppes. I was running a little late, so I missed introductions but caught up quickly that Ms. Kelly (otherwise known as Zanita Willis) was a gracious and inspiring principal. She was excited to meet with parents and take us around the building.
Carrie Busey is the school that will be moving to Savoy once the new building is built just a few blocks from our house. I believe the estimated building time is to get the school in Savoy built by fall 2011, but as with most building projects... we'll have to see. The school day runs from 8 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., and, like my trip to South Side last year, the building was locked to prevent random people from entering. I like this from a safety aspect and at the same time it depresses me. The school of choice focus is on creative writing and literacy, and the partnerships and emphasis on reading are evident in every classroom, in the halls where University of Illinois students are working one on one with students, on the reading recovery room, reading enrichment room and then just a separate reading skills room. The principal also mentioned that only 4 of their kindergarten students this year failed to reach the satisfactory reading level on standardized tests. And since the program has been preforming well for the last four years, she doesn't see a new principal coming in and changing the fundamental parts of how the school has been meeting students needs.
And this was my favorite thing about Ms. Kelly. Every word out of her mouth was student focused, with the support of teachers and then she brought up requirements. She seemed to focus on the idea that if you taught the student well the requirements would come. Rather than using the requirements as a bar that the kids needed to jump over.
I also loved that there were other integrated programs within the building, including one with children with hearing disabilities. The special education lessons were done in small groups in one room, but there were teachers at each table and the ratio to kids was between one teacher to three students to one teacher to six students.
The classrooms at Carrie Busey are currently gigantic. Huge. They make South Side seem very crowded, but they don't lose the intimacy like the ones at Barkstall did. The kindergarten teachers at Carrie Busey have been teaching for over 15 years. And they still, like South Side, emphasize the use of centers (housekeeping, blocks, etc.) for socialization and lifeskill improvement. According to the K teacher, Mrs. Carswell, this isn't a given at every elementary school in the district, but it is an aspect that the K teachers find important at Busey, particularly if they're dealing with a new bunch of kids who may have never been in a school environment or a social environment where working, playing and interacting with others was a norm.
In a nice change of pace, Carrie Busey is using grants to work against the childhood obesity problem. Birthdays are celebrated once a month with special treats. But the focus of all school celebrations, fundraisers, etc., are purposefully activity based fun rather than using food (particularly those of the indulgence kind) to celebrate. So there will be no candy bar sales... The school also provides a weekly introduction to different kinds of fruits and vegetables. Each week a new kind is brought in for the kids to feel, touch and try. A lot of it may be foods children have never seen or tasted before. The biggest challenge is getting them to try something new.
In the music room, children were strumming ukeleles. They didn't look overly excited. The strumming didn't sound particularly cheerful. :-) But I have a feeling they would have been way more excited pretending they were rockstars with guitars. There is a permanent art room in Carrie Busey. The class moves to the art room versus the art teacher visiting rooms on carts. The gym doubles as the cafeteria, and the gym teacher is one of the leaders in the school's focus against the American culture's food fixation. Given the last year of my nutritional commitment, I'm kind of happy to have a school that agrees with the same philosophy of food that I'm trying to instill at home.
Overall, I was satisfied with the idea of Carrie Busey being our neighborhood school down the road. I liked what I saw. Right now, as a Savoy resident, X-man has an 80 percent chance of going to elementary school there, if we choose the public school route.