As the president of Friends of Coonley and one of its founding members, Kathie Bock helps raise money for Coonley Elementary, 4046 N. Leavitt St., providing everything from shelving and air conditioning to new microscopes and sports equipment. In the eight years that Bock has been working with Friends of Coonley, enrollment at the school has grown and the overall curriculum has expanded. Faced with new challenges, Friends of Coonley, along with the Local School Council, is reaching out to ensure that Coonley continues on its successful path.
Center Square Journal recently talked with Bock about Friends of Coonley, her role and what the future holds for the school.
CSJ: What does the money raised by Friends of Coonley mean for the school and what does it help pay for that would otherwise go unfunded?
Bock: Year-to-year funding varies greatly from the Chicago Public School system, and we supplement what can’t be funded. We fund music programs and art programs. We pay for a Spanish teacher. We have done capital funding such as improving the library and purchasing iPads and smart boards for classrooms. We have purchased books and bought tables and shelves. We have bought microscopes and provided social studies classes.
There is a Friends of Coonley board that meets once a month. We meet with the school administration, which presents what it needs. We then fill that gap. For example, we recently bought air conditioning for the school. It’s a 100-year-old school, and it gets hot on the third floor, which makes it difficult for students and teachers. We voted to purchase new air conditioning for the school. We get the quotes and analyze them and make a decision. When it comes to something like a teaching position, we commit to a year-to-year funding obligation.
Describe how Friends of Coonley works with the Local School Council and what two purposes the entities serve.
All of our funding goes through the Local School Council. We work closely together, and we get approval from the LSC for our fundraising efforts. They work with the school administration with what needs to be addressed and what shortfalls the school is experiencing. The administration then brings those needs to Friends of Coonley. I want to stress to people that the LSC elections are coming up, and it is crucial for parents to participate in CPS and to participate in its governance. It’s important for parents to know how much influence they can have on our Local School Councils.
Why did you get involved with Friends of Coonley and what keeps you energized?
I originally became involved when my eldest child was nine months old and I started to think about the school. (Two of Bock’s three children currently attend Coonley.) I thought about doing charitable work, and it was rewarding to see impact on the school and its improvement. I enjoy getting people involved. At first, we couldn’t get people in the door, and now there is a wait list. I want to see that continual improvement.
Unlike the LSC, which has composition requirements for its members, the Friends of Coonley has no requirements. Even though it is more natural to see a parent participate, anyone from the neighborhood can be involved. What is good for the school is good for the neighborhood. So far, we’ve had a multi-tiered level of success. We got the community to buy into the school. A lot of parents in the neighborhood sent their children to private schools and only a small percentage went to Coonley. When we started, we held a fair to just get people in the door. We then received about $3 million in TIF and CPS funding, which we used to redo physical elements such as hallways and bathrooms. We then became a regional gifted center, which opened us up to a whole new crop of students and with that came more funding. It was the trifecta: raising money, awareness and community comfortability.
What are some of the challenges facing Coonley and Friends of Coonley in the short-term?
One of the biggest challenges is that we are running out of space. We are not sure how we are going to house all the students. This year, we had four kindergartens. There is a bubble coming down the line. We had a talk with Alderman Pawar and he has committed funds to meet these needs. The child population in the neighborhood has grown by leaps and bounds. Parents want to keep families together to make sure siblings go to school together, which will only fuel enrollment.
What do you find to be the most frustrating and rewarding aspects of Friends of Coonley?
Frustrations are small and common. This is my second full-time job, and we are constantly working in a very changing environment. It is important to keep up with the programming that we want to fund, and we need to keep parents engaged. We need to let parents know how important funding is. As you are becoming established, it is easier to forget how important these programs are.
It is a gem of a school. I am constantly amazed at how engaged the teachers and administration are. The LSC, Friends of Coonley and the PTO all work together well to really do what is best for the school. We have special needs students, neighborhood students and gifted students, and all the parents work hard to make it the best. It is rewarding to see this hard work and to see what the kids get out of it. We get to see the grassroots efforts pay off.
Bonus Question: Your annual auction, the Spring Fling, is this Saturday, April 14. Can you tell us about it?
The Spring Fling is our annual auction and largest fundraiser. It’s going to take place this Saturday at the DANK Haus, and we are expecting 500 people to show up. There is a silent and live auction with a professional auctioneer that gets the crowd going. People can bid on all types of things, including a seven-night stay in Michigan, a trip to NYC to attend a taping of the Daily Show, projects from students at Coonley, guitar lessons, restaurant gift certificates and other items. There will be music and a DJ after the auction. It’s a fun time for everybody.
The Spring Fling is Saturday, April 14, at the DANK Haus, starting at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $100 at the door. Anyone can donate to Friends of Coonley at friendsofcoonley.org.
LSC elections for elementary schools will be held April 18 at each individual school. All residents, not just parents, are eligible to vote at their neighborhood school.