Local School Council Elections

It's not a secret (nor is it a reasonable topic for a concise blog post) that our education system is in terrible need of reform. Small changes take big effort, and the problems are so pervasive, with such deep roots, that I, for one, often feel completely stymied, powerless to make any kind of difference. Close followers of this blog will know that this spring, I guest-blogged for the Neighborhood Parents Network on how this topic has affected me personally: we won't send S to preschool, and may continue to homeschool her beyond her early ed years.

This is an admittedly extreme reaction and not a decision we'll ultimately make lightly. In the meantime, however, we have the power to effect the kind of big change we all want to see. And when I say we, I don't mean B and I, as S's parents; I mean we, citizens and community members.

Tomorrow starts voting for Local School Councils. And while you've heard a lot about school choice and teachers' unions (I'm pro and anti, respectively and for the record), you don't hear much about this critical aspect of Chicago Public Schools. You'll find better resources than this blog to get you up to speed on the intricacies of how school councils work (there are a handful of valuable links here; there's also a fancy CPS app), but in short, Local School Councils are mini-boards made up of community members (some parents, but this isn't the PTA). They help make decisions about hiring, firing, training, and other goings-on within the schools, and they have real, inarguable POWER. They have the kind of power that helps make those small changes (and the big ones) possible. (Ousting ineffective principals is a good start.)

This year, nearly all of Hyde Park/Kenwood's schools (Kenwood, Canter, Ray, Murray, Harte, Shoesmith, and others) have openings on their councils. And, though the deadline to run is past (perhaps you'll consider next year?), your chance to get involved starts tomorrow -- you can cast your vote this Wednesday and Thursday. If you're a parent picking up report cards this week, it will be easy (and hopefully unavoidable). If you're anyone else with a stake in our community and the future of our schools, you'll have to make a mild effort (a short walk to the school nearest you!) to get there (difficulty: 2).

And lest you be concerned that you don't know enough about the topic to cast your educated vote, you should know that I've been approached more than once in the past week by candidates eager to share with me their qualifications for the role, their reason for being interested, and their real passion for making a difference. These are people like you and me, who have a stake in this neighborhood and want to be a part of its success. The important thing is getting bodies in those seats. So often, the system gets stuck in a loop: the people involved in decision-making processes are too close, unable to see the forest for the trees, and it's critical to get some level-headed, slightly removed, totally engaged people seated around a table to open a frank discussion and make difficult (but necessary) decisions about what needs to happen in these schools.

Do it for the children, people. Happy voting, Hyde Park!

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  • I'm interested in what you mean when you say "our education system is in terrible need of reform"? Are you speaking specifically about the U.S. schools, Illinois, Chicago or Hyde Park schools? I don't really disagree reform is needed on some levels. But, some schools do an amazing job at teaching our children. Clearly, too many do not.

    I think it is right to focus on the LSCs as a means of assisting individual schools to do better. I think collective parent and community support can do more.

    As an aside, I read your "guest blog" post. I felt many of the same feelings. But, my wife and I then put our son in a CPS pre-school at the age of 2, and he has loved it from the first day. On his second year, he is happy. As parents, we never pushed him to learn to read, to do math, or anything of that nature. We just wanted him to enjoy school. And he has. It's funny, but when we started him we were prepared to pull him out in an instant if we didn't like the way it was going. We never considered it. Good luck on your own decision, when the time comes. Schooling choices are stressful.

  • In reply to Steve:

    Oh gosh, Steve. Thanks for the comment. When I say the system needs reform, I mean the whole shebang -- nationwide, though Chicago is a great example of an urban school district that's failing its kids pretty spectacularly. You're absolutely right that some schools do an amazing job, but that's far from the norm.

    And thanks for looking at the NPN blog, too -- I think a lot of people have found themselves in similar positions to yours and mine: not wanting to succumb to the academic pressures exerted on our young children but still feeling the very real desire to see your kid a happy, social creature. I try to be really honest with myself about my motivations -- I never want to make my daughter an unwilling representative solely of my principles. While I certainly want her to have my values, I also recognize that she is a unique little human and there may very well come a day (sooner, perhaps, rather than later) when that means making decisions that seem right in practice if not in principle.

    Thanks for the support!

  • Parenting is incredibly hard, and schooling is particularly tough. I completely understand what you describe.

    As for CPS, I just have a really hard time understanding how the hope of a safe and nurturing environment comes down to a lottery for so many. A friend of mine cried when his son's name was pulled for a good school - he had no other real choice but to hope for a "win".


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