From Roscoe View Journal by Patty Wetli (thanks to CPSObsessed):
With her cropped pants and sandals, tousled red hair and Starbucks cup at her side, it would be easy to mistake Dr. Lilith Werner for the student teacher she once was, rather than the administrator she now is.

But during a wide-ranging conversation about the state of education, both in Chicago and nationwide, it quickly became apparent why Werner was chosen in June to take over the reins at Lake View High School from retiring principal Scott Feaman. Thoughtful, passionate and progressive, Werner is strongly committed to creating an environment in which both students and staff can thrive. And that doesn’t just boil down to raising test scores.

No question, these are challenging times for Chicago Public Schools, indeed for urban public school systems in general, many of which face large budget deficits, contentious relationships between teachers’ unions and public officials and a poor perception among taxpayers. Werner, who signed a four-year contract, understands there are no quick fixes or short cuts. While her ultimate goal may be to burnish Lake View’s reputation among residents who currently dismiss the school as a choice for their children, she realizes progress will come incrementally.

“Typically it takes three to five years to transform an elementary school,” Werner said. “It takes five to eight years to transform a high school. They’re enormous institutions and it will take a lot of groundwork to make [Lake View] a viable option.”

Werner finds herself in the same boat with leaders at other neighborhood high schools, which tend to lose their brightest students to the city’s more prestigious selective enrollment schools. While she can tout the $3 million in college scholarship funds earned by graduating seniors or point to success stories like the Ukrainian immigrants who gained acceptance to the University of Chicago, she still faces an uphill battle with parents focused purely on statistics. A glance at 2010 scorecards shows that at Lake View, 36.5 percent of students met or exceeded reading standards versus 86.1 percent at nearby Lane Tech; 26 percent scored higher than 20 on the ACT compared with 83 percent at Lane.

Part of the problem, which Werner experienced first hand in her previous position as principal of Marconi Elementary on the city’s West Side, is that few students enter high school with the skills needed to succeed. “Illinois has done a disservice with the ISAT test,” she said of the measurement used to gauge student achievement at the elementary level. “The ISAT has very base levels of passing. You could get a 35 percent on ISAT and ‘meet standards.’” According to Werner, it takes an “exceeds standards” score to indicate a student is remotely ready to handle the rigors of high school, any high school.

To help bridge that gap, Werner hopes to engage many of the same neighborhood residents who turned Blaine Elementary, a Lake View feeder school, into a CPS gem. “I think traditionally parents are much more involved in elementary schools and let go, in terms of being involved at the school level, in high school,” she says. Werner would like to see some of that same grassroots enthusiasm channeled toward Lake View, with residents taking ownership of the high school in the same way they invest in the neighborhood by opting to shop at local businesses or eat at local restaurants. All Werner needs is a handful of parents willing to take a chance on Lake View with their “exceeds standards” students rather than sending them to Lane or Whitney Young or Northside College Prep. “Some parents are going to have to take the plunge, make a leap of faith,” Werner said. “There have to be some brave local parents.”

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