I had the pleasure of visiting Urban Prep Academy Bronzeville recently – a CPS charter high school that is focused on bringing students together and pushing them to reach higher.

As I walked the halls with Principal Glass, I was impressed by what was going on in the classroom. Students were engaged in a high-level of discourse, and their academic vocabulary showed how serious teachers at Urban Prep are about preparing students for college. Having such high expectations is clearly paying off, as more than 80 percent of Urban Prep graduates enroll in college.

This school has made impressive gains over the past few years, particularly in Math – where their ACT composite scores have risen from 16.5 to 17.6 over the last three years. I observed some dynamic Math instruction during my visit, with teachers engaging students in Math Talks and using other tools that transform Math from numbers on a page into relevant processes for everyday life. One Math teacher – Mr. Holifield – takes his enthusiasm for Math even beyond the Bronzeville campus, volunteering his time to tutor students at Urban Prep locations around the city.

Even more impressive than the academics is the effort Urban Prep makes to build relationships with other schools. For example, Principal Glass and his staff regularly reach out to the teachers and students at nearby Doolittle Elementary – a District-run school – so that if and when those children choose to attend Urban Prep, they’ll feel comfortable and supported from the very first day. One Urban Prep teacher – Mr. Whitten – even coaches basketball at Doolittle, and the bond he has forged with his athletes makes them excited to consider attending Urban Prep for high school.

This is a perfect example of how District and charter schools can work together to support the needs of all students. I appreciate the hospitality shown to me by the students and staff at Urban Prep and hope they will continue striving for both community connections and academic excellence.