Schools That Work

I’m on a post-auction high. Successfully planning an event where everyone has a good time makes me happy. But what makes me a little misty-eyed was the successful teamwork among parents, teachers and administrators that made the event work. It’s no small thing to have a CPS school that works. And I feel so fortunate and grateful that my kids are taught and cared for by these amazing people every weekday.

Much has been made of late about CPS’s refusal to engage parents in the education policy-setting process. As Jill Wohl of Raise Your Hand has pointed out, one way to better force CPS as an institution to listen to us parents (both individually and as an institution) is to vote in the upcoming Local School Council elections on April 18-19, 2012. Or, even better, run for one of the 6 seats available for parent representatives at each school. Applications are due March 8, 2012 March 23, 2012. Even if you’re on the fence, it’s just a short personal statement and a bit of box-checking. (Seriously, job applications require more writing).

Another way that parents can be a part of the process, in my opinion, is to have–or work to create–a great partnership with your school’s administration and teachers. This partnership (or more accurately, a trifecta among parents, teachers and students) is what makes some CPS schools stand out within the second largest school district in the United States. Indeed, the parents behind the 6.5 to Thrive movement (more on that in a bit) almost invariably come from schools with a very active parent population. I’d bet that Northside Prep is the #1 high school I the sate of Illinois not because the kids are the intellectual cream of Chicago’s academic crop (although that certainly helps), but because their parents have taken an active and supportive role in their education and schools since Y2K.

It’s not surprising to me that your average mother of a 3-year-old on the Northside can rattle off a list of great schools within the district, but cannot name even a single school on CPS’s turnaround list. It ultimately comes down to resources: parents at these “name” schools are active, stay current and have the means and the know-how (aka resources) to the CPS powers that be. How does that happen? I’d like to think its not because we’re well-spoken, tax-paying adults with an affinity for Northface puffer jackets and Starbucks nonfat lattes, but because we’ve formed strong ties to our school communities, and have developed a critical level of trust with our school-based cohorts. A strong parent-school community is good for the parents, but it’s also good for the kids. As Ted Ganchiff pointed out in Nettelhorst’s one-day symposium in June 2010, the days when you sent your kids off to school in K and didn’t think about school again until the college boards ended when, well, they stopped calling them the college boards.

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