CHICAGO, August 8, 2018—The Chicago Board of Education has at last approved 20 schools and their lead community partner agencies, with those school communities to receive $10 million in funding to implement a pilot of Sustainable Community Schools. For the upcoming school year, each participating neighborhood school will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars to funds programs, staff and services to help address critical student needs. The program is a bold effort to deploy a proven model that tackles the educational inequity that undercuts Chicago’s working class Black and Brown communities.
“Today is a good day for our schools, it’s a good day for community education [and] it’s a good day for the working class communities that make up the backbone of the city,” Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Sharkey said a press conference today at CTU headquarters. “When I say we believe in Sustainable Community Schools, we believe in sustainable communities.”
“We applaud the Chicago Teachers Union for bringing community demands into contract negotiations with CPS,” said Jaribu Lee, an organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, part of the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) coalition that collaborated with the CTU in SCS planning. “This model is rooted in evidence-based practices for what works in public education.”
For nearly two years, the Chicago Teachers Union and community allies met with Chicago Public Schools representatives in a joint task force to develop and implement this initiative. This announcement, long delayed, should signal the beginning of the kind of investment in schools that all CPS students should receive—including essential services that include trauma relief and restorative justice programming as Chicago confronts yet another wave of summer violence.
“[Mayor Rahm Emanuel] has got to pay Chicago what he owes,” CTU Director of Government and Public Affairs Stacy Davis Gates said. “Safety not occupation; investment in resources, not fees, fines and penalties; jobs with living wages; [and] not billion dollar handouts to rich people.”
In the last round of bargaining with CPS, the CTU—as part of its partnership with community allies in GEM—fought for and won contract language that requires CPS to invest in creating 20-55 Sustainable Community Schools. The community schools model is not new, however, and CPS has an existing Community Schools Initiative that brings limited partners and services to some students and schools. But the joint CTU-CPS effort is new and much more extensive. SCS deploys a specific model that envisions schools and partners that work together to support students under a set of shared principles grounded in equity, good research and durable supports.
SCS principles are grounded in racial justice and equity; transparency and trusting relationships; self-determination and governance; a commitment to build from community strengths and community wisdom; shared leadership and collaboration; a reflective learning culture; and a whole child approach to education. Schools and their partners will work to bring these crucial transformative principles to their school communities from a platform that guarantees durable funding and truly values both CPS students and their communities.
“The Sustainable Community Schools initiative gives us the opportunity to re-imagine our schools from the point of view of parents, students, teachers and community members who live and work in these school communities,” said Marc Kaplan, an organizer with GEM partner Northside Action for Justice and Local School Council member at SCS grantee Uplift Community High School.
Participating schools will develop leadership teams of stakeholders, which include educators, administrators, students, staff, families and community members. Those stakeholders will work together to determine how they will use funds to foster key goals, such as increasing parent and community engagement, improving school climate and addressing students’ socioemotional needs. Stakeholders will also address restorative justice practices, provide students with out-of-school programs, and help ensure that curriculum is culturally relevant.
The schools in the SCS pilot will explicitly build on the wisdom of community members like Kaplan and Lee who have fought for decades to bring this kind of sustainable model to their neighborhood schools. These activists have long empowered neighborhood schools to deeply value shared leadership and work to challenge racial inequities.
But while the SCS initiative represents a significant win, only 20 schools will receive this investment, leaving hundreds of other schools out in the cold.
“Student-based budgeting is killing our schools,” said Jhoanna Maldonado, a special education teacher at Yates Elementary, one of the schools selected for the SCS program. “The loss of enrollment is the biggest threat to [newly selected SCS schools] Schurz and Yates, and this grant will address that by making the school a community resource navigation center for families and the surrounding areas struggling with housing, immigration and other resources.”
The CTU calls on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked Board of Education to fully fund Illinois’ evidence-based model for all CPS students in every CPS school. This kind of collaborative model, where leadership is shared among all members of the school community, should be the norm and not the exception.
It should not take a contract fight and months of negotiation to invest in 20 community neighborhood public schools, while 90 percent of this district’s youth are students of color, and nearly 80 percent are economically disadvantaged. So our Union will continue to fight to build on this pilot program, and to create a school district in which every neighborhood school is a sustainable community school.
“Instead of starving neighborhood schools and closing them, instead of flooding our communities with mediocre charters that pick and choose who they serve, CPS must invest in all of our students and all of our children,” Lee said.
“So while we celebrate today, we’re not done.”