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Mayor Richard M. Daley today cut the ceremonial ribbon dedicating the new Irene C. Hernandez Middle School for the Advancement of the Sciences, another of the five new “Modern Schools Across Chicago” facilities the city’s school system is opening this year.
Hernandez, a neighborhood school located at 3510 W. 55th St., serves students in grades six through eight and is part of a developing linear campus along St. Louis Avenue on Chicago Southwest Side. Just south, across 55th Street, is Sandoval School, which serves kindergarten-through-fifth grade students; under construction to the north is a new high school that is projected to open in 2010.
“Modern Schools Across Chicago is funded entirely with city money,” Daley said in a news conference at the school.
“Until very recently, state and federal money to support school construction has been very scarce and we knew it was our responsibility to create schools in every neighborhood of the city that we can be proud of and that our children can thrive in,” the Mayor said.
After the ribbon cutting, the Mayor and Chicago Public Schools officials were given a demonstration of the school district’s innovative “Parent Portal,” an interactive tool designed to allow parents and guardians a way of keeping track of student grades, attendance, homework assignments and other aspects of student performance.
Hernandez was developed to address enrollment challenges caused by the rapid growth in student population on the Southwest Side. The 126,748-square-foot three-story building has a planned capacity of more than 1,000 students and cost $29.4 million to construct.
“Our goal is to make every neighborhood school a high quality school that a parent wants to send their child to because it offers our students a great opportunity for a solid education,” Daley said.
It boasts 37 standard academic classrooms, two multipurpose rooms, two computer labs (one featuring Macs, the other PCs), five science classrooms, music and art classrooms, a gymnasium with stage, library/media center and many other features.
Named for Irene C. Hernandez, the first Latina Cook County commissioner, the school was designed to achieve a silver rating under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Schools Rating System.
“Hernandez is an outstanding example of the partnership between the city, local aldermen, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Public Building Commission in providing state-of-the-art facilities to our students,” said CPS Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman.
“During a period in which capital funds for new school construction are scarce, we appreciate the leadership Mayor Daley has shown in creating the MSAC program that allows our District to meet our needs with both upgraded buildings and equipment and in managing local surges in enrollment,” he said.
The interactive “Parent Portal” program, has been expanded this fall to include a Spanish-language version.
“Parent Portal” was introduced during the last school year, first as a three-month pilot project in 37 schools and then later District-wide. Implemented by the CPS Information and Technology Services department, the Parent Portal contains information about a student’s class descriptions and assignments, progress reports and classroom performance, as well as notes and comments from teachers.
Parents and guardians can create accounts once they have obtained a secure PIN from their child’s school. Parent Portal can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection. The online tool also allows parents with more than one child at more than one CPS school – elementary, middle or high school – to view and manage student information with a single account.
“Parent Portal provides a simple and convenient way for parents and guardians to do what they are supposed do — take responsibility for and be involved with their child’s education every day of the year. And it represents yet another step we are taking to increase accountability and transparency in the school system,” Daley said.
Families without computers or who do not have internet service can access Parent Portal at any Chicago Public Library. Each library location offers internet on its computers, as well as free wireless internet service for visitors with laptops.
Parents who create an account can customize it for their specific needs. For example, parents can request that they be notified when their child is marked absent from school or if grades in a particular subject drop below a certain level. Notification can be sent to either an email account or a cell phone via text message. The tool also allows for direct messaging between parents and teachers.
“A great volume of information is available via a few mouse clicks. Yet, at the same time, the intent of Parent Portal is not to become the be-all and end-all in a parent-teacher relationship,” Huberman said.
“We urge parents to go to their child’s school’s open house; to make a point of meeting with teachers on report card pickup day. There is no substitute for building a relationship with your child’s teachers. Parent Portal is an important way to enhance the in-person face-to-face interaction between parents and teachers that is crucial to a child’s academic success,” he said.
Last year, more than 30,000 parents signed up for Parent Portal accounts. District officials expect that number to grow substantially this year as more parents find out about the tool, as well as implementing a Spanish-language version of Parent Portal.
More information about Parent Portal can be found on the www.cps.edu Web site under the “I Want to Check My Child’s Grades Section.” Links to Parent Portal tutorials in both English and Spanish are also available in this section of the Web site.