In the pantheon of elections in the City of Chicago, Local School Council balloting is the one time when people can literally “vote early and often.” Residents can vote at multiple schools and elect representatives who then have the authority to hire and fire principals and make decisions about spending discretionary money.
So why are so few people engaged in the process?
That was the question hanging in the air Wednesday night at Roscoe View Journal‘s LSC Candidate Meet and Greet held at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave. A handful of LSC candidates gathered to talk to neighbors interested in this little-known but vital avenue for community involvement. At both the Athenaeum event and a similar forum held Tuesday at DANK Haus, 4740 N. Western Ave., the number of candidates, organizers and elected leaders outnumbered residents.
The apparent lack of interest may stem from what Catalyst Chicago publisher Linda Lenz characterized as an attitude of “benign neglect” from Chicago Public Schools leadership toward LSCs.
“No CPS administration has ever embraced local school councils,” Lenz said during Wednesday night’s forum. “CPS does not have a good track record of community involvement.” She went on to note that one of the changes implemented by new CEO Jean-Claude Brizard was the appointment of a director of “Family and Community Engagement,” a position that has already been vacated since its creation last fall.
The level of parental and community engagement varies in LSCs covered by RVJ. More than a dozen candidates are running for six parent seats each at Blaine Elementary, 1420 W. Grace St., and Lane Tech College Prep High School, 2501 W. Addison St. However, all six parent incumbents are running unopposed at Jahn World Language School, 3149 N. Wolcott Ave., while only two parents are running for six seats at Lake View High School, 4015 N. Ashland Ave.
“I think there definitely could be more interest in what happens in the LSC,” said incumbent LSC member Evan Makela from Hamilton Elementary School, 1650 W. Cornelia Ave. He suggested that other demands on parents’ time often forces school involvement to the bottom of their “to-do” lists, but that can cause problems down the road.
“There are a lot of parents — and I don’t blame them — [who] don’t want to put in the parent involvement work, so what they do is they look for a good school that other people have worked on and gotten to a good spot,” Makela said. “And you can see it after a couple of years when people get burned out and you need to pass the baton to the next group. If those parents are like, ‘Well, wait a minute, I didn’t want to be involved, I came to this school because you’re a good school and I didn’t need to put in that work,’ then you start to go in the wrong direction.”
So how do schools drive more involvement? Jemy Evans, the president of Jahn’s LSC, said she wishes more parents would get involved, but “I don’t think CPS is able to do anything at this point. It’s up to each individual. Some parents work, some parents go to school,” she said. Hamilton’s Makela said driving more involvement starts with paying attention. “I think if you see [parents] that [are] active and involved … you get to know them and just keep publicizing, publicizing, publicizing.”
Local School Council elections for Chicago elementary schools are set for April 18, and high school LSC voting is set for April 19.