Friday, January 25, 2008

Rare Parents Who Care

Like that alliteration? Me too.

My oldest son, C. Peevie, goes to a Chicago Public School, Edison Regional Gifted Center. It's been, for the most part, a successful academic setting for him. Edison has attracted some really wonderful teachers that have nurtured C.P. both mentally and emotionally; and he's certainly been challenged to learn and perform at an accelerated pace.

I love the diversity of the families at Edison. The school is racially and geographically integrated, with kids coming from all different parts of the city to be a part of this educational community that consistently rates among the top three in the entire state year after year. (It's not, however, terribly economically diverse, being the school with the smallest percentage of kids that qualify for subsidized lunches in the CPS system.)

But here's what's really outstanding about this school: the parents. Especially the parents of the kids in C. Peevie's class, but many of the other parents as well. They are involved in their kids lives, motivated to participate in the life of the school, generous, kind, helpful. They know their kids are smart, but they see them as so much more than just little brains. C. Peevie has classmates who volunteer in nursing homes, clean up the beaches on Earth Day, and serve meals at homeless shelters. They pull together to help each other out with big things, like when a family has a crisis, or in little things, like when a kid needs a ride home after school.

Every year these public school parents put on a fund-raising event that collects tens of thousands of dollars. I think they've raised $70K or $80K every year in the last few years. They solicit local businesses for goods and services, they donate valuable items, they bid hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars for kid-created artwork and unique teacher-sponsored activities. They are committed to getting a good education for their kids, and they put their money, time and energy where their mouths are.

So now the CPS big shots, in all their wisdom, have recommended moving this perennially successful school from its current building to a different location in order to make room locally for neighborhood kids currently attending overcrowded schools. The Edison parents are moving mountains to make sure their voices get heard about this poorly-planned, poorly communicated proposal.

Not every parent is opposed to the move, but most of us can understand the concerns that others have expressed about the process, the issues with the new location, and the resources that we have poured into our current space. What's remarkable to me about this whole situation is how invested and involved these public school parents are. Not just the members of the PTO and local school council, either. They're writing letters, making phone calls, mounting PR campaigns, using vacation days to attend school board meetings, making speeches, and attending Saturday morning meetings to strategize and write position papers.

They're doing everything short of challenging the Superintendent of CPS to a duel to the death--but there's one guy, the parent of a kindergartener, who is headed in that direction.

Technically, the fate of Edison has yet to be decided by the vote of the school board. Technically, there is still a public forum where citizens can voice their concerns. But the technicalities seem like after-the-fact formalities that won't actually influence the decision. If this is really the case, then it's just not right.

I'm not one of the ardent nay-sayers opposed to the move in general. I am, however, vehemently opposed to bad process. Process is what keeps us civil and civilized. A fair process by definition results in a fair outcome, and this is what these committed, energetic parents--and their children--deserve.

So, Arne Duncan, and the rest of the Chicago Public Schools board, if you're listening, and I hope you are, here are my questions: Has this process been fair? Has it been unduly influenced by politics? Have parents really had a fair chance to be heard? If not, then what's the harm in postponing the decision until later this year, after there's been time for real and true citizen and parent input?

I look forward to hearing from you.

1 comment:

Boy George said...

This week's issue of Chicago Reader (Feb. 7, 2008) has an article by Ben Joravsky about the Edison matter on page 8. Joravsky apparently comes to the same conclusion that Ms. Peevie does, i.e. that regardless of this proposal's merits, the process really stinks.