Amundsen LSC Candidate Forum: School in Transition

By Patty Wetli | Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Amundsen High School. Credit: Mike Fourcher

As the candidates for Amundsen High School‘s LSC made their respective pitches to the handful of voters in attendance at last night’s forum, little could they have expected that their role was about to take on added significance when Principal Carlos Munoz announced his retirement later in the evening. Depending on timing–the new LSC won’t take office until July 1–individuals vying for parent, community, teacher and student seats may well be charged with hiring Munoz’ successor.

The proceedings at Amundsen, 5110 N. Damen Ave., once again highlighted the contradictory nature of Chicago’s LSC system. On the one hand, LSCs wield a fair amount of power: Their responsibilities include not only hiring and firing principals but also oversight of a school’s discretionary spending. On Monday night, Amundsen’s council approved upwards of $20,000 in expenditures, including a past-due bill for football equipment and renewal of a nearly $10,000 photocopying contract.

At the same time, even with the added publicity surrounding the LSC candidate forum, fewer than five area residents attended the meeting, all of them parents of potential students (some as young as pre-K) aiming to discern whether Amundsen is a viable option for their child.

Despite enrolling close to 1,600 students, Amundsen remains a curiosity to many of its surrounding families; the school draws nearly half of its students from outside the immediate community. Yet as the admissions process for CPS’ selective enrollment high schools becomes increasingly byzantine and fewer families flee the city (either by choice or as a result of the stagnant real estate market), Amundsen is coming under renewed scrutiny.

“Right now, you have an outpouring of interest,” Stephen Reynolds told the LSC as he presented a proposal to formally organize a “Friends of Amundsen” group, which would energize and focus that interest.

Given Chicago’s fragmented approach to secondary education–families might have three students enrolled at three different schools–the sense of community frequently dissolves at the high school level. For whatever reason, “people are more open to neighborhood schools right now,” said Reynolds, who’s been an active participant in the Winnemac Park Neighbors block club. “A lot of people live in the neighborhood, they see Amundsen, but they haven’t been inside the school.”

Those who do pass through the doors are often surprised to learn of Amundsen’s IB program and small learning communities. “We’ve got a lot of things other schools don’t have,” said Sharon Jones, chair of the school’s LSC.

Recent success stories include placing ninth in the city’s Academic Decathlon, having three students advance to the state Science Fair, and the acceptance of a student to study in the Bahamas as part of the Shedd Aquarium’s marine biology program. Spreading that kind of positive news and engaging the community was precisely the platform of several LSC candidates. Those present at the forum:

Melva Vega (parent): The parent of a junior at Amundsen, Vega is running for reelection. “I want to have a say within the school and in my daughter’s education.”

Alfredo Orozco (parent): Orozco is another member of the current council, having served for four years. “I try to do all I can,” he said.

Sharon Jones (parent): The current LSC chair emphasized her priorities of school improvement, safety and education.

Irene Munoz (parent): Munoz has a daughter currently enrolled at the high school and a son who will attend next year. “I care about my daughter’s education,” she said in her bid for reelection, “and I want to be a part of it.”

Alex Perez (non-teacher staff): Head of security, Perez is an Amundsen alumni and has been employed at the school since 1996. “My heart and everything is here,” he said. The father of three frequently tells people he has 1,603 children.

Tanya Baxter (teacher): Baxter, running for reelection, student taught at Amundsen 16 years ago, “and I never left.” An English and ESL instructor, she praised the collegiality among teachers and the “fabulous things” happening at the school.

Scott Reed (teacher): Reed has taught chemistry at Amundsen for 11 years and is a member of the current LSC. He promoted an aligned vision among teachers, administrators and the community and advocated for “shared responsibility and shared values.”

Students Ngan Le and Georgina Espinoza, both enrolled in the IB program, are running for the single student spot on the LSC. Their eloquent presentations highlighted their volunteer service and desire to contribute the ideas and voice the concerns of their peers.

Bill Helm (community): Helm is running for reelection as community representative. Active in local politics, Helm works those connections to help Amundsen move forward.

Michael Cohen (community): A corporate attorney, Cohen has been involved in educational advocacy through Raise Your Hand. “I believe very strongly in community involvement,” he said.

Brendan O’Connor (community): Born and raised at Peterson and Western, O’Connor is a lawyer with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and formerly served in the Cook County State’s Attorney office. “My professional life is devoted to public service,” he said, later sharing with CSJ that he always wanted to be a high school teacher.

Juanita Garcia (community): A neighborhood resident since 2001, Garcia works in sustainable building design. Since volunteering as an adult literacy tutor, she’s taken a keen interest in education. “I’d like to be an advocate for students,” she said, while also building resources among the community.

Jeffrey Newman (community): A transportation engineer, Newman works remotely for the Georgia Institute of Technology. He’d like to share his Internet experience with Amundsen, helping the school make better use of its website to “push out all the good news.”

High school LSC elections are scheduled for April 19, 6 a.m. – 7 p.m. Meet the candidates at CSJ‘s LSC Forum, April 10, 7 p.m., at DANK Haus.



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