Bill Gates lauds academic gains at Chicago high school

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Bill Gates talks with students at North-Grand High School in September. | Bill Gates Facebook photo

Academic improvements at a Hermosa neighborhood high school have caught the attention of Bill Gates.

In a Tuesday blog post, the billionaire Microsoft co-founder recounted his September visit to North-Grand High School to learn more about their freshman intervention program designed to keep students on track for graduation.

Gates described being impressed by Chicago Public Schools’ rapid improvement in high school graduation rates compared to national averages, and how schools like North-Grand were using data to bolster student success.

“I heard many theories to explain Chicago’s progress, including teacher training, better accountability, a longer school day, and demographic changes,” Gates wrote. “What impressed me most is how the city’s schools have worked together to use evidence-based research to measure and improve their performance.”

Bill Gates poses for a photo with administrators at North0Grand High School. | Provided photo

Bill Gates poses for a photo with administrators at North0Grand High School. | Provided photo

North-Grand is currently rated Level 1 by Chicago Public Schools, the second-highest on the district’s rating scale.

The school held the district’s lowest rating of Level 3 in 2012, when administrators started working with the University of Chicago’s Network for College Success research group to identify incoming freshman students at risk of struggling with the adjustment to high school. The school then provides additional progress reports and counseling to support those students.

“This intervention… is surprisingly simple. But the returns have been tremendous,” Gates wrote. “The students I met at North-Grand during my visit liked the fact that there was no mystery about their standing in their classes.”

Gates spent a full afternoon at the school, having one roundtable discussion with five students and another with Feltes and other administrators.

North-Grand Principal Emily Feltes said she had only short notice of Gates’ late-summer visit — and it came as a total surprise to the students selected to sit down with him.

“They were a little celebrity-shocked at first, but they got comfortable quickly when he started asking questions and showed he was being open with them,” Feltes said Tuesday.

Feltes called it “one of the coolest things” she’s been a part of in seven years at North-Grand, three of them as principal.

“I feel like it made them feel seen and heard, and any opportunity we have for them be be represented and feel part of the community is just a wonderful thing.”

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