Chicago Public Schools’ latest school choice initiative, GoCPS, was the topic of conversation for an On the Table discussion hosted by Kids First Chicago and BUILD Chicago held at BUILD’s office, 5100 W. Roosevelt, on May 16.
Launched by the Chicago Community Trust (CCT) in 2014, On the Table is a day where dozens of rich and nuanced conversations addressing multiple issues across Chicago are held with the intended goal of fostering new relationships and creating a unifying experience. On the Table has grown significantly over the years from an estimated 11,500 participants in its first year to an estimated 55,000 participants in 2016. This year, almost 100,000 individuals, including those via social media, participated with On the Table, according to CCT.
The CCT is a community foundation that uses philanthropy, civic engagement, and strategic grant making to create inroads into improving the lives of residents within the area.
With the launch of GoCPS, the school district is attempting to demystify and streamline the application process for 8th grade students applying to the high school of their choice. Through the GoCPS website, students and families have the ability to evaluate all district high schools–both within and outside a student’s neighborhood– for consideration before submitting a single digital form for immediate consideration, response, and acceptance. If the student and/or family is dissatisfied with their final offer, they can resubmit their application.
Kids First Chicago and BUILD invited local school principals, school administrators, parents, and Chicago Public Schools Chief Education Officer Dr. Janice Jackson to join the On the Table dialogue. Jackson gave details about GoCPS and participants answered questions. She shared that although she has spoken at similar events, the ability to speak with parents was an element that made her “excited” to participate in On the Table. She said part of her leadership style is “being in the know” because it affords her the information to create effective policies.
“After coming today, it was reassuring to hear so many parents’ support along with their questions and concerns because they are the same ones we have identified and the ones we are working to fix,” said Jackson. “Even when we hear things that we don’t like to hear, we need to hear them to be successful.”
Jackson said some of the concerns she heard from the participants at her table were regarding the scale of GoCPS, its implementation and the single offer school process. She was also asked about how special needs students would be impacted and how she will limit racist practices throughout the process.
Jackson said it’s “a reality” that some neighborhood schools have a poor perception compared to their more highly regarded counterparts. She said greater investment from the school district for programming would be beneficial.
“All of the schools are trying, I know what’s going on in these schools. There are hardworking teachers in there; I know there are principals leading in there, but some of them are taking on a really tremendous challenge [but] the reputation of the school proceeds them,” said Jackson.
Daniel Anello, Chief Executive Officer at New Schools for Chicago, called the concept for On The Table discussions “fantastic” given their open and fluid nature while addressing a particular issue.
“For our work for Kids First Chicago and New Schools for Chicago, it’s really about elevating families and parents into the discussion around the schools, and this is what that’s really about,” said Anello.
Anello stressed that emphasis should be placed on parents with students within CPS schools being given the opportunity to have their voices recognized by the district, and then for that input to go towards shaping policy.
Carmen Mahon, Project Manager at Michele Clark High School, said the perception of certain schools must change in order to accommodate all students. She highlighted that there are several issues that impact education beyond the classroom such as violence, trauma, and more. She said she “loved” being a part of the discussion but hoped intentional action was happening as well.
“Students need to know that there are great choices in this community, and if there are not great choices, then we need to know why,” said Mahon.
The GoCPS application will open on Oct.1, however, between May and October, students and families are encouraged to explore new possibilities and options prior to filing out an application.
Updates will be released throughout the summer, according to Jackson.