Besides requiring seniors to file a post-high school plan in order to graduate, Chicago Public Schools officials also want high schoolers to take chemistry and physics, too.

The plans, which go before the Chicago Board of Education for approval Wednesday, beef up CPS’ existing science requirements — which used to be biology plus two other sciences courses — to put them in line with state guidelines, officials said Tuesday. High school students also will study financial education topics such as money management and insurance witht he help of private partners.

Those changes would apply not only to CPS-run high schools but also to privately operated, publicly funded charter schools in Chicago.

Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said the changes were part of a larger holistic high school strategy that started with streamlining applications to Chicago’s wide range of high school options.

“People think that the common application leads to better schools and the common application alone does not do that,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “When you look at our strategy, we are trying increase access and make sure people are participating in the process, but you cannot do that without strengthening what’s happening in the schools.”

Latanya McDade, CPS’ teaching and learning chief, said that the reasoning behind the beefier science requirements for all high schools is that, on every campus, “We believe there’s a doctor in that high school, a biochemical engineer in that high school.”

It would be left to individual schools to decide when students must take each course and whether they already have the staff to handle the additional demand for science teachers.

One-third of Chicago’s public high schools don’t currently offer chemistry and physics, according to McDade. She said many schools also will need upgrades of their laboratory facilities. Officials did not provide any of those names.

There’s also concern that 15 under-enrolled schools don’t have enough students to afford the range of teachers that the new courses would require, a problem that will fall mainly to principals to figure out, Jackson said.

They’ll have until the fall of 2018 — when the requirements are to kick in for all freshmen — to plan for additional certifications or possibly teacher-sharing, Jackson said, adding that officials haven’t yet finalized budgets for next year.

“We’re laying the groundwork for CPS to continue its success academically,” Jackson said. “Despite our financial challenges, we are not prepared to sit back and wait for the dust to settle.”

Teachers at Amundsen High School in Ravenswood decided to jump in and change their science offerings for this fall, a year ahead of the mandate, said Principal Anna Pavichevich.

“The changes to what constitute the lab class and what didn’t will require us to shift things around a little bit. We will be flexible and make the necessary adjustments as required.”
But, she added, “some teachers are going to have to go back and take extra classes to get certification.”

Pavichevich also lamented the loss of other science offerings — Amundsen has offered environmental science as a rigorous lab course where students also plant gardens, tend to butterflies and keep bees on the grounds of the school at 5110 N. Damen.

“I think that given the state of the world,” she said, “environmental science is pretty important.”