As rain turned from drizzle to a heavy downpour on Friday afternoon, LSC candidates filed into the gymnasium for a candidate forum at Chappell Elementary, 2135 W. Foster Ave., shaking off their umbrellas. The weather provided a sharp contrast to the mood inside, where as each candidate approached the podium to present their credentials, the focus was firmly fixed on a brighter future for Chappell.
Noted Principal Joseph Peila, who served as moderator, “Nobody decides they want to run for this council unless they have genuine caring for this school.”
Chappell has needed a lot of TLC in recent years. As the neighborhood gentrified and housing stock converted to condos, long-standing families were priced out of the area. The school’s enrollment plummeted to 200 and teachers were being let go for lack of students.
“When I think about those days….,” said Carol Castro, bilingual instructor and LSC member running for reelection, whose statement trailed off in emotion. “There was a light, and it was Mr. Peila.”
Peila was hired five years ago and made recruiting students from the neighborhood his immediate priority. “For whatever reasons, we had difficulty getting the community to notice us,” he said. Thanks to his energetic leadership and outreach efforts, Chappell is now on parents’ radar and enrollment is nearing 450. Staff has been repopulated with a cadre of young, enthusiastic teachers, test scores are on the rise, and for the past two years, Chappell has been designated an Illinois Spotlight School.
The challenge for the next LSC will be to build on current momentum while continuing to manage the needs of a highly diverse student body. On April 18, voters will choose six parent representatives from seven candidates and two community members from three candidates. Those present at the forum:
April Butz (parent): Butz has two children enrolled at Chappell. “We’ve been incredibly pleased with the education they’ve received,” she said, so much so that they make the commute from out of district to attend. Butz is going back to school herself, studying for an education degree at Northeastern University. She’s been filling an open slot on the LSC, which she said has been a “great experience learning how the school is run and having a voice in that.”
Eric Rojas (parent): Next fall, Rojas will have two students enrolled in pre-K at Chappell. His goal as a member of the LSC will be to communicate the school’s needs to the broader community. “I think the LSC is the perfect spot to contribute from the inside-out,” he said. His involvement with the Winnemac Park Neighbors gives him access to a group of constituents and a pool of talent to draw on to assist Chappell. “I want to create a go-to school for neighbors in the area.”
Brandee Tavano (parent): Tavano is seeking reelection to Chappell’s LSC. She referenced her involvement with the school’s various programs and fundraisers. “Since I do spend so much time here, I have a good idea of what goes on day to day.” With Chappell moving from the 47th to the 40th Ward as a result of the recent remap, she emphasized developing relationships with the current and future aldermen.
Heidi Kafka (community): Kafka has served on the LSC for eight years. “I show up for every meeting and I’m involved,” she said. With two children in high school, she also brings a parent’s perspective to her role as community representative. “I see the school growing,” she said. “But we don’t want to just grow and not maintain our special character.”
Carlos Casia (teacher): Casia has been at Chappell for four years and teaches first grade. New to running for LSC, he’s interested in listening to his fellow teachers and bringing their concerns to the council.
Carol Castro (teacher): A long-time LSC veteran, Castro, a Spanish instructor, also advises CPS on curriculum. “I really believe that Chappell can go to the next step,” she said. “I love the kids, I love the parents. Chappell has so many things to offer.”
No matter who’s elected to the LSC, Peila believes it’s important as an administrator to work with the various constituents–parents, community members and teachers–who have a vested interest in Chappell. “We all have the same mission,” he said, “to create lifelong learners.”