Applications for Local School Council positions are due March 8, and school-reform advocates are urging West Side community members and parents to apply at their neighborhood public school.
Elections for the school councils are held every two years at all Chicago Public Schools. This year, elementary and high school races will be held April 18 and 19.
Local School Councils have the power to hire and fire a principal and determine how to spend a school’s budget, said Donald Moore, executive director of Designs for Change, which aims to improve urban public schools.
“They select the principal for a four-year performance contract and at the end, they can decide to rehire the person or not,” Moore said. “There are no other structures like this in the U.S. where parents, teachers, community members and other school staff have major authority.”
The councils were established in Chicago through a law passed in 1988, Moore said.
The school councils, which typically meet once a month, consist of six elected parents; two community representatives; two teachers; one school staff member who is not a teacher; and the principal. In high schools, a student also sits on the council. The chair of the Local School Council is elected by the council and must be a parent.
All positions except the principal are up for election this year.
Valerie Leonard, co-founder of the Lawndale Alliance, said she’s considering running for a community representative position at her local elementary school, Mason Math and Science Academy, 1830 S. Keeler St.
“I’m trying to decide if I want to throw my hat in the ring,” Leonard said. “I’m really concerned about what I see going on in the schools.”
Wanda Hopkins with Parents United for Responsible Education, whose children attend Chicago Public Schools, said every school is different and each has individual needs.
“The reason why it’s so important (school councils) stay in existence is because parents should have a right to have a say in what’s going on in their children’s education,” Hopkins said.
Moore from Design for Change said Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the school board have not been supportive of Local School Councils.
“Some of the people we’ve been talking to – current LSC members or people thinking about running – are discouraged,” Moore said.
“I think it’s important for them to realize that this is a political process. They are going to encounter resistance … they shouldn’t give up because somebody said something in opposition to them.”
Hopkins said serving on a school council is hard work – members contribute about 20 hours per month – but “everything that’s been accomplished took hard work.”
Jill Whol of Raise Your Hand Coalition, who served for two years as Local School Council chairwoman of Inter-American Magnet School in Lakeview, said parents can bring an “incredible amount of knowledge and resources to their children’s schools.”
“Yes, it’s time consuming and it can be hard, so (parents and community members) stay away. But the stakes are too high to stay away,” Whol said.
Hopkins said the community has a “moral responsibility in Austin to make sure every child is educated.”
“How we do that is we sit at the table and make decisions,” she said.
“We need you parents. We need you community members. We need you to run for LSC to help save our community in Austin.”
Applications must be brought in – not faxed – to Chicago Public Schools’ headquarters, 125 S. Clark St., fifth floor, no later than 3 p.m. March 1. Individuals can also drop off applications at their specific school no later than 3 p.m. March 8.
Visit Chicago Public Schools’ web site for more information about running for a Local School Council or becoming an election judge.
Great article, Ellyn! Thanks for highlighting the need to get the community more engaged in our local schools.