August 22, 2008 – Hundreds of local school council members will gather Saturday for an LSC Summit, culminating a series of legislative hearings on increasing support for local school governance.
Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association , will give a keynote address. Organizers say Berry is a strong supporter of LSCs — and that her participation reflects widespread support among many principals who have positive relationships with LSCs and value parent involvement.
The event is sponsored by school reform and community groups along with the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee of the Illinois House. State Rep. Esther Golar, chair of the committee and a former LSC member, sponsored three hearings in recent months where LSC members called for increased resources for LSCs, including improved professional development, as well as defense of local school governance, which Chicago Public Schools is eliminating at many new schools.
Many also called for an elected school board.
The summit comes at the start of the 20th year of school reform in Chicago. “The strategy of involving parents and the community in local school management has been an amazing success,” said Julie Woestehoff ofParents United for Responsible Education . While local school councils “don’t get a lot of credit from the Mayor and his team,” they are recognized nationally as a model — and while business and foundation support has turned toward privatization, “community support is still very strong,” she said.
The hearings represent “an acknowledgement on the part of legislators that LSCs need a lot more help than they’re getting,” she said. Recommendations from the hearings are expected to form the basis for legislative proposals.
The LSC Summit takes place Saturday, August 23 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at UIC’s Illinois Room, 750 S. Halsted.
Blocks Together : An LSC at Orr
Blocks Together, one of several community groups participating in the hearings and summit, is fighting for an elected LSC “that has real powers” at Orr High School, said Irene Juaniza. This year Orr was designated a “turnaround school” to be administered as a teacher training academy by the Academy for Urban School Leadership , with an appointed advisory council.
“With Renaissance 2010, CPS has a strategy of taking away powers from LSCs,” Juaniza said. “We are looking for LSCs that have full power and authority in all schools including charter, contract, and small schools.”
“We believe real parent and community involvement can only help improve the quality of education in our schools,” she said.
Blocks Together is concerned about the connection between school closings and gentrification, as well as the diminishing number of neighborhood schools, Juaniza said. “We feel like the West Side is under attack,” she said. “The number of schools that are open to our children is smaller and smaller.”
The group has leaders and members with long histories of involvement in local schools at many levels; having seen what became of previous CPS plans — particularly at Orr — they tend to be skeptical of new ones, Juaniza said. “There are so many discrepancies,” she said.
Orr’s new managers “have not been transparent,” she said. “Only after we started pushing have they been more transparent.”
“If they’re trying to work in partnership, why is there so much secrecy? Why are they alienating teachers and staff?” she asked.
Most recently the group heard of Orr students being told they were now outside the schools boundaries — despite earlier promises that no one would be turned away. “We asked the [new] principal about the boundaries, and he said he didn’t know — he said we should ask CPS,” said Juaniza. The school has now said any student who was at Orr last year can return, she said.
Participating in the LSC Summit has helped Blocks Together “get a perspective on what’s happening citywide” and develop relationships with other groups, Juaniza said. “We’ve made some great allies,” she said.
(You can read other neighborhood stories like this one at the Community Media Workshop Web site.)