Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Local School Councils still matter to Chicago Public Schools parents - Opinion - Crain's Chicago Business

April 13, 2016


Yes, Local School Councils still matterComments Email Print

By: Janet Meegan

Education Albany Park Avondale Opinion & Columnists Opinion

What began in Chicago three decades ago as a "radical experiment" in neighborhood control of education has come to resemble—both through waning interest and a deliberate undermining of its powers by Chicago Public Schools—an overlooked and underestimated electoral artifact.

This need not, and should not, be. Parents can play a critical role in realizing the power of Local School Councils at their fullest potential.

When I joined the Local School Council at my son's school four years ago, I found out why the process is so intimidating: There are formal meetings governed by rules parents don't immediately understand. Even educated parents can't always figure out what these councils can and cannot do.

Despite the learning curve, I came to understand the importance of having these bodies and the need to make them stronger.

Soon after I joined the council, I was involved in the principal selection process at that school. Because of Chicago's great diversity—economic, racial, cultural—a principal who excels at one school may struggle when placed in a much different environment. Key to making a good decision is to pick a leader who fits into the school's culture, one who can work well with the community. Who would I want steering my son's education? His classmates'? That was a concrete choice I had to decide with others.

I found out then that one of the roles of parent LSC representative is a "decoder" for other parents—a decipherer of true and false information. We have to explain this information in a way that others can understand and become engaged around.

Being a local decision-maker, albeit a minor one, contributed to shaping my outlook on how such representatives fit into the bigger narrative.

When my son first began school, I became a super-"room mom," attentive to the needs of my child's classroom and our own school. My involvement in the Local School Council taught me that I also needed to look at the larger picture: What is happening in CPS? What is happening in Springfield? How might their budgets affect my child's classroom?

I had to become an activist. As parent representative, I convinced the other moms to call Springfield to ask for the resources our school (and schools like it) needed. The situation at many of our schools is dire, but If parents didn't do this every year, we'd have even less.

I am running this year in Albany Park-Avondale alongside five other 33rd Ward Working Families members who see a value in the LSC turning outward—taking a stance on city and state issues whose consequences play out at the schools we represent. We hope to use the Local School Councils to foster community advocacy around those issues.

Without the benefit of an elected school board, Chicago's Local School Councils races are the closest city residents get to democracy in education. At the most localized of scales, they are also the best opportunity to connect directly with the constituents represented.

That includes teachers, students and, not least of all, parents.

Janet Meegan is the mother of a fifth grader and a pre-K student. She is a parent representative at Carl Von Linne Elementary and a member of the community organization 33rd Ward Working Families.

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