I Think Jesse Ruiz Doth Protest Too Much
UPDATE: CPS Extends Candidate Filing Deadline for Parents / Community Members to Run in Upcoming Local School Council Elections. Read entire press release. According to CPS, there are 2,060 candidates to date, and far more are needed.
You might have heard me on WBEZ Schools on the Line this week, asking Board of Education member Jesse Ruiz why CPS isn’t doing a better job engaging parents to run for LSC. The deadline is next week. As of last Monday, only about 750 people were signed up to run out of some 600+ schools looking to fill about 5000 slots.
That’s like 7 or 8 Chicagoans running for alderman to fill the entire city council.
I generally don’t like to do call in shows, sign up to go to board meetings, or participate in online forums to “crowdsource” opinions and ideas. I think they’re just bread and circuses – the illusion of inclusion. It’s not where policy gets made.
Nevertheless, I called Jesse to ask why oh why is CPS not doing more to grow good LSCs.
His response was that running for LSCs was the first thing announced at last week’s Board of Education meeting.
Wow. That would reach what – an audience of tens? The system needs thousands to run.
A better response would have been “Let me look into that for you.”
And what he would have found is that CPS should have been communicating about LSCs by start of school. CPS should’ve put just as much muscle in getting this word out as they have rolling out the full day campaign. Imagine if CPS made videos and upgraded the website (cps.edu/lsc) and pumped out press releases to build awareness and inform and educate citizens about voting boundaries and candidates at all schools! What if Mayor Emanuel had toured the city, saying “CPS needs you, now!” and been featured in a video about LSCs -- as he lent his busy persona to this video promoting charter schools? Or if pastors used their leadership and CPS dollars to engage parents and community in running and voting at their neighborhood schools instead of this debacle. Or even this sideshow.
Instead, I went to an LSC rally at Lane Tech High School on Monday that had scarce parents, but ample CPS FTEs, catered food, imprinted items, a raffle and a band performance. How'd I know about the rally? I happened to visit the LSC page on the CPS website last week. Another audience of tens.
Most people who don’t know anything about LSCs dismiss the idea that mere parents can pick a principal. But actively engaged parents are the best advocates for their children, and the selection process is not made in a void.
I served on an LSC from 2006-2010. Among our accomplishments was a principal selection process that could not and would not have been performed by CPS. Counter to CPS’ recommendations, we added non-LSC members to the committee to be more inclusive and reflective of the school’s population. We developed extensive screening tools and rubrics to mirror the Mission and Vision of the school. We made sure teachers from every cycle and non-teaching staff were at the table. We conducted a rigorous, nationwide search, and ended up with three spectacular candidates. Each one would have been a rock star principal.
Many from central office and the area office strongly discouraged us from even looking outside the system. CPS’ process is that a principal position be listed in their CPS eBulletin. Nowhere else. Reaching a qualified audience of tens. No budget or system is allocated for promoting in EdWeek, NAESP, NABE, etc. In the end, we promoted the position ourselves on education listservs and among national leaders. We ultimately attracted and chose a cutting edge instructional leader from Colorado.
Without a strong and vital LSC, this selection process would never have happened as expansively, robustly, and successfully as it did.
The Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago studied successful schools and discovered five essential supports -- school leadership, professional capacity, parent-community ties, student-centered learning climate, and instructional guidance. Mostly through benign neglect, CPS has done very little to promote authentic connection and credibility in parent-community ties. And recently, when parents try to engage, they get argument by assertion in tele-town halls, radio call-in shows, media coverage, etc. Great educators facilitate environments where children are encouraged to dig deeper, yet top brass at CPS cannot yet harness authentic parent energy, talent and enthusiasm.
My favorite boss -- a dynamic, effective and powerful leader -- always told me that “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17). Building strong LSCs and meaningful engagement with parents and community members would be evidence of CPS promoting the essential support of parent-community ties.
C'mon Board of Ed, CPS, CTU and Office of the Mayor. Let's sharpen some iron.
Note: I would be remiss if I did not credit the positive guidance received from CPS, notably from Hanna Kapica (now an Assistant Principal) and Dr. Bill Rice in the Office of Local School Council relations. Thanks to you both.