American Girl thwarted in plan to donate a library's worth of books to a Chicago Public School because... The Chicago Board of Education doesn't provide each elementary school with a full-time librarian!

At the June 24, 2009, Chicago Board of Education meeting, Gar Crispell, General Manager of American Girl on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, spoke about the American Girl involvement with schools during the public participation portion of the meeting. He mentioned that American Girl was founded by a former teacher to encourage reading. American Girl would like to build a new library for William H. King Elementary School at 740 S. Campbell (325-350 students), but there is no budget for a librarian. Above, Gar Crispell of American Girl, Chicago, told the Chicago Board of Education of the plans of American Girl to upgrade the King Elementary School library, but pointed out that the plans can't be fully effective unless the Board of Education budgets a librarian for the school. King Elementary — like dozens (perhaps hundreds) of Chicago's elementary schools — has not had a full-time school librarian for more than five years. Budget cuts imposed by former Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan resulted in the paradox where elementary schools received more and more test prep materials, but did not have libraries for the children to read books. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.He also addressed the wish to retain Ms. Janet Sandifer, a teacher of 7th and 8th grade students, who lacks seniority and is being released because of budget cuts, and the need to provide for the funding of a librarian. Mr. Terrence Redmond, an employee of American Girl and an alumnus of King, participates in a committee at American Girl that concerns itself with Charity and Community Outreach. Apparently, when the needs of King Elementary and his having graduated from there were brought up, American Girl looked into ways they could help.

Mr. Crispell was the "Principal for a Day" at King Elementary in the fall of 2008. He found out that there had been no librarian at King for at least six years.

According to Mr. Shelton Flowers, principal of King, because of budget constraints, there wasn't enough money to fill both a Physical Education (P.E.) position and a librarian. The decision was made to fund a full-time P.E. teacher because of the need for physical activities by the children and to use computers to reinforce reading skills and comprehension. In addition, a music lab, with sixteen keyboards obtained with a grant, and a half-time music teacher were provided to enrich the students for the last two years. The school has also requested an all-day Kindergarten.

William King Elementary School, at 740 S. Campbell in Chicago, cannot take full advantage of the books program supported by American Girl because the Chicago Board of Education does not ensure that every elementary school has a full-time librarian as part of its regular staffing. Substance photo by Marybeth Foley. After Mr. Crispell was "Principal for a Day," American Girl developed the goal of creating a new library at King and the mission of improving reading. As one aspect of this goal and mission, during this last year, Terrence Redmond and six to ten other American Girl personnel have volunteered the first Wednesday of each month at King. Activities have included a book fair, curriculum developed by King teachers, and a fashion dance at the end of the year for which students made clothes and fashioned hair styles.

American Girl staff helped provide expertise. Boys were even taken to the barber shop. Also, King students and parents went to Opening Night at American Girl Place. The next day, twelve girls went to American Girl Place for breakfast. The opening night, breakfast, and transportation were all paid for by American Girl,

In addition to the involvement of American Girl at King, Mr. Crispell told Substance about involvement of American Girl at Agustin Lara Academy, 4619 S. Wolcott. During this summer, seven and eight year-old students, fifteen from Lara and twelve from nearby Seward Elementary at 46th and Hermitage (both in Back of the Yards), are taking part in a summer reading program with the purpose of improving literacy, encouraging reading and empowering girls.

The two-week seminar, entitled "Be Your Best" and "The Smart Girls Guide to Manners", will be followed by a trip to American Girl for tea, paid for by American Girl.

The American Girl summer reading program couldn't be located at King Elementary because King does not have air conditioning, despite the pressure by top Chicago Board of Education officials (and Mayor Richard M. Daley) to force a growing number of schools on to the "year-round" model. The American Girl program is operated this summer at Agustin Lara Academy, a Chicago public elementary school, which has air conditioning that works. Substance Photo by Marybeth Foley.The summer session is taking place at Lara because Lara, which is holding summer school, also has air-conditioning. In the previous four to five years before Mr. Crispell was "Principal for the Day," Rush Medical Center sent Beverly Huckman to be "Principal for the Day" and Paula Brown to be "Assistant Principal for the Day."

Rush helped build the playground at King and took King students to Rush for Career Day. At King Elementary, built in 1959, to replace an older King Elementary on Harrison Street, there are approximately eleven Pre-K to 8th grade classrooms. The population is 24 percent Spanish-speaking. There are no interpreters. There is a bilingual coordinator, with a pull-out program, who services thirty-two students in need of English help.

There has been a loss of ESPs (education support personnel such as teacher assistants) - the school is now down to one.

American Girl will provide the funding for revamping the library and providing materials and a media center in the northeast corner of the school. Shelves are being put in. Books are being provided. Among the books being provided are very possibly the American Girl history books, highlighting girls of different eras.

CPS will have to be responsible for providing the librarian. If a full-time librarian is not funded, the position of librarian may possibly be a half-time position, while a .5 P.E. teacher may take the place of a full-time P.E. teacher.

Ms. Janet Sandifer, the seventh and eighth grade teacher who is being let go because of a "lack of seniority and budget constraints" has achieved remarkable progress with her students, according to school officials: Ninety percent meet or exceed standards.

Split-grade classrooms are often the result of budget constraints which force classes to be split with two grade levels in one classroom in order to meet class-size requirements. Another complication is the requirement that upper-grade teachers need endorsements in the areas of Language Arts, Social Science, Math, and Science.

William H. King Elementary School is named after Willam H. King, President of the Chicago Bar Association in 1879. Agustin Lara Academy is named after Agustin Lara, a renowned Mexican composer, who wrote 600 compositions, among them, Granada. William H. Seward, was Secretary of State in Lincoln's cabinet. He is also known for the purchase of Alaska for $7,200,000 by the U. S. Government in 1867. At the time, purchase was known as "Seward's Folly" (Encyclopedia Brittanica, 2009). 


July 22, 2009 at 12:36 AM

By: Marybeth Foley

Retired CPS Teacher, Substance Reporter

On July 6th, Gar Crispell, American Girl General Manager, sent an email with this additional information:

"Between annual donations from American Girl and matching grants we hope to have the funds for a new library within the next three years. We estimate the cost to be around $100,000 and will be seeking the support of other businesses as well. We hope to get CPS to fund a librarian. AG donated a set of historical character books to every branch of the Chicago Public Library in October."

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