Last week, I had a great opportunity to meet with a group of parents and Chicago Public Schools' CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. When Brizard was first named to the post, I heard a fair amount of negativity about his methods, approach, and success rate. But: I like the guy. I've found him to be approachable, thoughtful, and well-informed. On Thursday, he ponied up to the table with myself and parents from Scammon, Taft, Farnsworth, Canty, Peterson, Jahn, Hibbard, Roosevelt, Foreman, Portage Park, and Kelvyn Park, and introduced himself as a parent of three children who also happened to be the CEO of CPS.
And then he took and answered questions for an hour.
There were essentially three themes in the discussion:
- perception versus reality within CPS
- Common Core and curriculum
- funding / resources
I'll cover the first one in this post.
I think the issue of perception versus reality is prescient. During the conversation, Brizard made a few conflicting points, a reflection of the wider issue. He pointed put that there is "a crisis of 'good' available seat" within CPS, but noted that this is a perception that can create reality. For example, he said, Lincoln Elementary has gross overcrowding, but the network in which Lincoln resides has 1,000 more seats than bodies to fill them. Why does this happen? Is Lincoln infinitely better than Alcott or other schools within the network? Or is it a perception?
I have long believed that if everyone sent their kids to the local elementary school and made the time investment, these schools would quickly because the ideal schools we expect and demand for our children. To wit: Nettelhorst, Coonley, Agassiz, Blaine, Burley, Skinner West, Hamilton, Belding, Portage Park. Taft, Amundsen, and Schurz may be next on the high school front. The problem, however, is the perception that these--or any school--are broken beyond repair. (The turnaround plan unfortunately runs against this current.) However, I fully recognize that this takes a leap of faith and it may seem easier to make the investment in a "new school" in the form of a charter.
Brizard noted that the crisis of quality high school seats is really a crisis of (mis)perception that the only H.S. worth pursuing are on the selective enrollment list. As a parent from Taft noted, this does everyone a disservice. Like CPSObsessed, I've got my eye on the H.S. piece. (And given what comes out of The Boy's mouth these days, I'd say he's thinking about it too.) The Boy is certainly on track to do well in a challenging H.S. setting, but I'm not sure that a highly competitive, non-local high school is the best choice for him, or for any of my children. I'd love to see the city as a whole rework our collective definition of "choice" and "options" so that more students and their families really can choose.
As an aside, did you know that Taft has an average ACT score of 24? I didn't. And that is a fantastic achievement for "just" a neighborhood school; Brizard shared that the college boards consider 21 to be the absolute minimum for a student to achieve college success.
But: how do schools like Taft get the word out? Brizard suggested a few things that his office is launching in the next year. One is to relaunch the principal for a day program as a culmination of a successful partnership between schools and corporations or agencies. Another is a Blueprint for Success in community engagement, which will come out in draft form in late June.
The crisis of quality seats can also be blamed for Brizard's answer to my question: is there a way to revisit the Human Capital issue of teachers' children enrolling in the SE and magnet schools where they work?
Last summer's Blue Ribbon Commission referred this issue to Human Capital. Somehow, I don't see the union fighting for this issue in their list of demands. Although the discussion at the Listening Tour indicated to me that many people do not support teacher "preference," I just can't let this one go.
I believe that giving our teachers the opportunity to enroll their children in the schools in which they teach is nothing short of good policy. It seems ridiculous to me that my 3 children can get into Disney II because of another good policy to keep families together, but my children's teacher, who has been working there for 4 years (and yes, even in the summer), cannot enroll her child through a special teacher lottery when he or she is ready to enter K. At Disney II, we are talking about 1-2 entry-level spots per year, or about 4 percent of the class. In fall 2012, the year The Tot enters K, 54 percent of the class comprises siblings.
A teacher preference policy supports keeping families together. And more than that, it benefits the school communities themselves. Would I rather have my kids' teacher available to run an after-school program at Disney II or would I rather have him/her across town at his/her child's school? What would you choose?
However, Brizard said that although the Board of Education has been debating the issue for months, there is no consensus on the issue either within the board or among CPS parents. To prove his point, he asked the Listening Tour crowd and several people said no.
I'm not going to stop asking. Will you join me?