Monday, September 26, 2011


 Angel Turner explains that it is her job as
an elementary school principal not just to
prepare students for high school, but for
college and to compete in a global economy.
(Photo by Isaac Jones)
 Morton Librarian Kristy Rieger says she
works to introduce students to a variety
of different texts and genres, including
graphic novels – good literature in
comic book format. (Photo by Isaac Jones)
 Morton School of Excellence is a Teacher Training
Academy where Resident Instructors learn beside
experienced Mentor Teachers. (Photo by Isaac Jones)
 Morton teachers are carefully
selected to meet differing
learning styles of students.
(Photo by Isaac Jones)
 Faye Jett, Athletic Director & Phys. Ed. Teacher,
uses creative techniques for keeping kids fit, active
& involved. (Photo by Isaac Jones)
 As an AUSL school, Morton benefits from extra resources, such as offering Spanish classes through Language Stars. (Photo by Isaac Jones)
Morton School of Excellence surged from one of the state’s worst-performing schools to a
top academic school with over 90% of students Meeting & Exceeding state standards under
AUSL management. (Photo by Isaac Jones)
It is almost impossible to believe that in three short years Morton School of Excellence, 431 North Troy, has gone from being one of the very worst performing schools in the state of Illinois to making the second-largest test score gains in the city of Chicago. In 2008, the Chicago Public Schools contracted the Academy for Urban School Leadership to manage Morton. AUSL is a private company that specializes in repositioning underperforming schools, relaunching them for success. AUSL manages Dodge Renaissance Academy, Bethune School of Excellence, Howe School of Excellence, Johnson School of Excellence, Orr High School, and Collins High School on Chicago’s West Side, as well as several South Side schools.
The schools managed by AUSL remain Chicago Public Schools – not charter schools – and all instructors are members of the Chicago Teachers Union.
Usually, the turnaround schools are closed and AUSL personnel repair and upgrade the plant facilities. The administration and teaching staffs are also replaced by specially selected educators expert at promoting student achievement. AUSL operates several Teacher Training Academies with Resident Instructors assigned to experienced Mentor Teachers. Morton is now a Teacher Training Academy for AUSL.
AUSL also makes resources and partnerships available to which other Chicago Public Schools do not have access. For instance, on the Martin Luther King holiday in January, the Illinois Lottery and WGCI Radio teamed with volunteers to transform Morton’s library into a modern multi-media center. Through the Community Schools Initiative, the YMCA is housed inside Morton, providing after-school programs for students. Morton participates in a partnership with the Joffrey Ballet, teaching Hip-Hop dance to middle school students four days a week. Language Stars brings a Spanish teacher to the school. AUSL has a Fine Arts & Performing Arts Director who assists Morton in obtaining programs in drama, music, and the visual arts. In addition, a partnership with Merit Music brings music classes to Morton students, while other public schools complain that budget constraints are removing the arts from their schools.
AUSL operates the only tackle football and baseball leagues in the city for elementary level students, and provides equipment. In spring, an athletic practice field was created adjacent to the Morton building through a creative land swap with a neighboring agency. A former collegiate all-star runs Morton’s football program. Morton’s Double-Dutch Team placed #1 in the city.
Angel Turner is the visionary Principal of Morton School of Excellence, guiding the 20 instructors, 30 support staff, 350 students, and members of the Local Parent Advisory Council. When she came to Morton in 2009, Turner says, “Students and parents were totally out of control.” She met with school stakeholders and let them know the school needed a change in culture and climate. Turner said it took a long time to establish a regular in-school routine and get parents to understand that they could not run the school and disrupt classes. Before she arrived, police were called to Morton daily because of students fighting and disruptive parents.
Turner explains that children yearn for structure, routines, and systems. She says it is important for adults to model for kids and help them channel energy positively. She and the staff promoted the slogan: It’s Not Playtime – It’s Crunchtime!
As a result of the changes made in the school, Morton was named #1 in the city for improvement in safety and security by the University of Chicago. Turner emphasizes that the same students are attending Morton now as when the school was failing academically and conditions were out of control.
Another gauge of change at Morton is that children are arriving before school opens, going to the library to read and study. “The building is open every day until 6:00 PM,” Turner notes. “But, we have to tell students that we are closed and they have to go home.”
Morton proudly proclaims itself a 90-90-90 School: 90% low income, 90% African American, and 90% of students Meeting and Exceeding state academic standards.
The first year Turner was Principal, three Morton students were accepted to selective enrollment high schools. This year, 20 Morton graduates are attending prestigious high schools.
Ms Turner explains, “The responsibility for elementary school principals is not just to prepare students for high school, but to prepare them for post-secondary and college.” She says her job is to prepare students to compete in a global economy by developing their critical thinking methodologies.
With 350 students in a building that accommodates 1,000, Morton has the luxury of room for special programs and projects. As a Balanced Literacy School, Morton is open seven days a week for teachers to come in and plan innovative lessons. Morton provides Pre-K3, PreK4, and Kindergarten through 8th grade. For information on enrolling children at Morton School of Excellence, call 773/534-6791.