North Chicago High School works to boost achievement

By Judy Masterson

January 17, 2014 5:38PM

North Chicago High School Principal Krystal Thomas. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media

About The Black Star Project

Founded in 1996 by Phillip Jackson, The Black Star Project is committed to improving the quality of life in Black and Latino communities of Chicago and nationwide by eliminating the racial academic achievement gap by providing educational services that help preschool through college students succeed academically with the support of their parents, families, schools and communities. For more information, visit

Updated: January 18, 2014 2:13AM

The Chicago-based Black Star Project arrived last fall at North Chicago High School, where it is working to improve academic achievement among the school’s largely low-income, minority student body.

While the non-profit operates in 90 schools in Chicago and the south and west suburbs, NCHS represents its first partnership with a school in Lake County. Black Star recently drew more than 100 adults to a Parent University event.

“Getting parents to be more constructively engaged with their children’s education − that’s the real work,” said Phillip Jackson, Black Star founder and executive director. “That’s the magic that’s really going to transform education in any community.”

Black Star, which is also offering a restorative justice program and a Saturday University, in addition to daily mentoring and tutoring, is just one of a number of efforts being put in place by the school to boost achievement and increase a graduation rate that currently stands at 63 percent.

A Freshman Academy, which will open next school year, according to Principal Krystal Thomas, will place freshman, now scattered throughout the 750-student building, in the same wing, with the same teachers.

“There’s a lot of research from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research on what needs to happen with freshmen to stay on track for graduation,” Thomas said. “We really want to support that transition into high school and offer more help in social and emotional development.”

The school will track recently enhanced state report card data, which shows that students who fail core classes are at higher risk of dropping out.

NCHS seniors this year for the first time are also enrolled in dual-credit courses at the College of Lake County in Grayslake. Eighteen students are currently earning both high school and college credits for Intro to Psychology and Intro to Criminal Justice.

“They are getting a true college experience in terms of the rigor of the courses,” said Sarah Stashkiw, CLC senior program coordinator for educational affairs. “It saves students time and money in getting some general education courses out of the way. But it also builds their confidence that they can do college-level work.”

Next year, NCHS plans to embark on a strategic partnership with Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine Science in North Chicago to cater to students considering a profession in medicine or health care. Details are still forthcoming on a proposed, yet-to-be-named health sciences academy, according to Christine Lopez, RFU executive director of community relations and stewardship.

In the academic year beginning 2015, the high school will launch a new IT Career Academy for students interested in information technology and engineering. The curriculum will be heavy on math and science.

“We’re trying to create as many opportunities as we can so students can see post-secondary education as an achievable goal,” Thomas said. “There has to be a connection between what our students are learning and the careers they want to go into. We want to build a college-going culture. It’s all about exposure.”

Thomas said she’s determined to make her students understand that they can aim high.

“Students in poverty sometimes don’t have aspirations,” Thomas said. “Success often scares them more than failure. I’m super passionate about creating pathways for our students.”

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