Marshall High School's Turnaround Saga

Tamoura Hayes started high school in Chicago with big dreams for college that she already knew would be tough to reach. "C'mon," she said. "I go to Marshall High School."

Marshall is a West Side school that for decades has been known both for its stellar girls' basketball team and its academic problems. The school's educational failings weren't lost on Tamoura, who went on to say that she "wasn't even supposed to be here." Marshall was her last option. Her family couldn't afford the private school that was her first choice, and she wasn't offered a slot at Raby, one of the newer high schools sprouting up on the West Side.

Tamoura was one of the 349 freshmen we profiled three years ago in Catalyst Chicago's "Class of 2011," a series of award-winning stories examining the challenges of fixing an urban high school.

Discussions about the many challenges facing these schools tend to give scant attention to the Tamouras who attend them -- the kids who don't get into trouble, who show up to school regularly, whose parents support their education but don't have a lot of financial resources to give them the extras that middle-class teens get regularly. But like Tamoura, these teenagers are savvy enough to know their schools aren't cutting it, and that their best option would be to bypass their neighborhood high school altogether.

Last year, Chicago Public Schools embarked on a turnaround at Marshall, sinking millions into campus renovations and bringing in a new principal and mostly new teachers and staff. Turnarounds, first launched in Chicago under now-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan when he was schools CEO here, are now part of the national strategy to fix failing schools.

Catalyst Deputy Editor Sarah Karp visited Marshall regularly during its first year as a turnaround. From her reporting, it's clear that the school is making progress, although it's still not a sure bet that the turnaround will bring dramatic improvement.

For more on Marshall and how Chicago Public Schools fits into the national picture on fixing high schools, and what happened to Tamoura as she became one of just 140 students to graduate, read our stories in the Fall 2011 issue of Catalyst In Depth.

You can also listen to Sarah Karp talked about turnarounds with host Alison Cuddy on WBEZ's Eight Forty-Eight.