By Darryl Holliday
Contributing Holly Demuth
There were more people than chairs at the first meeting of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s newly appointed Chicago Board of Education, which governs Chicago Public Schools.
The new board members took the opportunity to introduce themselves and explain their motivation for serving on the board, according to City Bureau Documenter Holly Demuth. They also announced changes to how Board of Education meetings will proceed in the future.
Changes to the Board of Education process include:
Opportunities for members of the public to comment earlier in the meeting (rather than waiting until the end of the usually lengthy CEO report)
Discussion of priority items before the public comment period, and earlier voting on issues not related to legal or personnel issues before the board enters closed-door session
Translation services provided for Spanish speakers at future meetings
Live streaming of meetings starting in July
Additional committees on “critical education policy issues,” though no further details were given
Some board meetings held “out in the community during later hours” rather than downtown at Chicago Public Schools’ Central Office.
(Full disclosure: This spring I was invited to and joined one of the mayor’s transition committees, groups of citizens who generated recommendations for the new administration. These changes reflect some of my Good Governance recommendations for all governmental agencies.)
Earlier this month, Lightfoot appointed seven new members, including former State Senator Miguel del Valle as board president and Sendhil Revuluri, managing director of strategic development at Peak6 Capital Development and Suder Montessori Magnet Elementary School Local School Council member, as vice president.
Earlier in Wednesday’s meeting, del Valle asserted his commitment to transitioning to an elected school board, as Lightfoot had promised during her campaign.
Why it matters
CPS has long been criticized for the way the Board of Education handles its public meetings. This week’s changes represent a shift toward transparency and inclusion for regular Chicagoans who care about CPS, at least in theory. Wednesday’s meeting lasted six hours, in part due to the more than 60 speakers signed up for public comment on issues ranging from a need for more school librarians, the ratio of social workers to CPS students, to Chinatown-area high schools and school overcrowding.
Despite concerns and opposition from attendees, the board voted in favor of an updated School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP). Members of Raise Your Hand, a parents’ advocacy group, urged the board to table any voting about the SQRP for this session until they could learn more. The SQRP vote led Substance News to roundly pan Mayor Lightfoot’s newly appointed board Wednesday in an article titled “Newly appointed Chicago Board of Education fails first test.”
According to Chalkbeat Chicago’s Adeshina Emmanuel, the stakes around SQRP are high as “ratings can be used to justify replacing or closing schools, or opening new schools in neighborhoods where options are deemed inadequate.”
The Board recommended a new Accelerated Advancement Act policy, which determines how students can be placed in kindergarten early, skip grades or receive advanced instruction in single subjects.
CPS CEO Janice K. Jackson emphasized the board’s commitment to barring Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers from gaining access to students or staff in Chicago Public Schools. Guides on dealing with ICE and protecting students have been sent to all schools, she said.
What you can do next
Community Action Councils, or CACs, consist of 25 to 30 voting members who are directly involved in developing a strategic plan for educational success within their communities. There are nine CACs across Chicago, each including parents; elected officials; and faith-based institutions, health care and community-based organizations.
Use our Documenters.org widget to find a Community Action Council in your ZIP code or within 2.5 miles of your address (we do not save or track information).