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A New Day for Roberto Clemente

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One of the most storied high schools in Chicago is finally about to get a fresh start. In a press conference tomorrow (Thursday), we will announce that Clemente is going to be one of the first in the world, wall-to-wall, International Baccalaureate schools.

When I first became alderman, one of my number one goals was to radically change schools in the ward that were not meeting the needs of our children. Everyone has heard the standard political rhetoric that "we support education." This rhetoric was rarely matched with any fundamental change. As a former Local School Council member, I promised to end the rhetoric and take action.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program has been remarkably successful. A University of Chicago study reported that students from IB schools are twice as likely to be admitted, and more importantly, succeed at college.

WBEZ recently explained how the program developed and what makes it different, "The IB curriculum was developed in Switzerland in 1968 as a college prep program for the children of diplomats. The curriculum, which includes philosophy, foreign language, and four years of math and science, is taught in more than 2,300 IB high schools worldwide."

Clemente has been on "probation" for the last 15 years. Currently, about 1,000 students attend the school, which has a capacity for 3,000. The majority of these students are not from the neighborhood. Despite the efforts of many excellent teachers and community members, the school does not have a good reputation.

The system has failed these children for too long. When I first met with CPS officials about the future of Clemente about a year ago, I challenged them to be innovative and pledged my full support and cooperation. Clemente will be the first IB school to have open, wall-to-wall admission, meaning the kids from the area (and current students) will be able to take advantage of this world-class education program. Admission to other IB schools is determined by an interview and a review of test scores.

We pushed for this wall-to-wall component for Clemente because we're not writing off any children in the 1st Ward, including the current generation of Clemente students. There's no way in hell I would deny a student an opportunity because they may come from a home-environment, which isn't particularly conducive to educational success. I don't believe in genetic or societal determinism.

Increasing opportunity in education is my passion. Words can't express how proud and excited I am about the future of Roberto Clemente High School.