U-46's Torres reflects on progress, challenges of 10 Boys Initiative
By all accounts, Jose Torres has made quite an impact on his "10 Boys," a group of Kimball Middle School students he's mentored for the past two years.
The Elgin Area School District U-46 Superintendent has tracked their grades, met their families and even helped them chart their schedules as they prepare to enter Larkin High School next fall. They've grown close through celebrations - Bulls games and pizza parties - and mourning - when one member of the group lost his older brother in a May stabbing in downtown Elgin.
Still, he feels, the work is not enough, "for obvious reasons."
"For me, it's a lack of time," Torres said. "I've tried to reach out and be personal. They have all of my phone numbers. ... I really do care about these kids. But I can't parent them like I'd like to."
Torres talked about the 10 Boys Initiative, now concluding its second year, as part of his presentation to school board members about top accomplishments in 2009-10.
Like Torres, about 150 other U-46 administrators and staff members have signed up to mentor underperforming elementary, middle and high school boys in groups of 10. Some have taken on even more than the required 10, nicknaming their group their "13 Boys" or "15 Boys," Torres said.
Elementary and middle school students were identified for the program if they scored below grade level on the district's internal Measure of Academic Progress Test. At the high school level, boys who had failed one or more classes were selected.
The initiative is modeled after a program implemented in Boston Public Schools in 2007, aimed at helping at-risk black and Hispanic boys beat the odds through an added support system.
Torres said when the program launched he did not want to limit the program to only minority students.
National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores reveal more girls than boys are graduating from high school across the country each year. Illinois State Report Cards show similar trends for U-46, the state's second-largest school district with 53 schools.
Torres says he feels the program has been successful, between the response from parents and the positive effect he has seen on their test scores.
"It is not a standard academic intervention. But last year we saw some benefits and increases," he said.
He hopes a report - which he's currently waiting on - will show the same of the program's effect this year.
Still, he feels, it could get better.
The cash-strapped district, which finished out last month with a $58.4 million deficit, "doesn't have the money to make that program the way we'd like to," Torres said.
"I think if we had some money, we could do a much better way of tracking. Of getting reports more than once a year."