Friday, June 21, 2013

"We're listening" and other causes for skepticism

The last PTA Advisory meeting of the 2012-2013 school year was last week...right as parents, teachers, and principals were learning (or in my case, had yet to learn) about how badly their budgets had been slashed for the 2013-2014 academic year. Our primary speaker was Wendy Thomson of the Office of Family and Community Engagement (FACE).

She spoke about transition plans for closing schools. She said that iPads and other promised resources will be available at the welcoming schools. They are District resources for use by the affected students, but it's not a one to one distribution of materials to those affected.

She mentioned Jadine Chou's safe passage program, saying that the District put out an RFP that explicitly sought community-based organizations (CBOs) with ties to each community and plans to hire community members to deliver safe passage services.

For overcrowded schools, Ms Thomson said that the district will use its Education Facilities Master Plan (EFMP) to guide its work with overcrowded schools in the utilization process. The EFMP came out in May and the district plans to conduct community outreach and engagement around four areas or "buckets":

- Program placement - how and where to place STEM, IB, and other programs within existing buildings/school communities
- Capital maintenance projects - CPS calls these capital improvement projects - determining how to prioritize its list of capital projects
- Capital improvement projects - CPS calls these capital enhancement projects - determining how to prioritize improvements to buildings
- Overcrowding/ over enrollment - she said, "nothing is off the table" when I asked about re-drawing the boundaries to improve overcrowding in some areas

For the 49-55 buildings in CPS that have been closed, the District is doing pre-RFP research to determine how best to repurpose these buildings. Carl Hurdlik, CPS moderator for PTA advisory, acknowledged that the city cannot likely sell the buildings because there isn't a lot of interest in them. Plans now to develop/formalize process to redevelop these buildings. A common idea is to use them as community centers.

Brenda Bell from the CACs spoke a bit about the process of transforming these buildings, the need for a formalized process, solid operational outlook, budgeting, etc. Get aldermen, small business partners, CBOs, CACs and parents involved in the re-development process. Use CACs to drive the process of conversion and then have communities themselves take over administration and project ownership of each community center or repurposing of buildings.

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