Chicago Defender’s Education Leaders Roundtable

From left to right, Frances Jackson,Chicago Defender publisher; Andrea Jones, dean of the College of Education at Governors State University; Thyatiria  A. Towns, director of the Parent University at George Henry Corliss High School; Kenneth Hill, President/CEO Chicago Pre-College Science & Engineering Program.

Your Organization’s Impact on Educating Kids

On Addressing the School to Prison Pipeline

The Chicago Defender’s editorial staff convened a roundtable discussion of educators to address a multitude of issues and unspoken questions students and families face throughout their academic journey.

Representatives from Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Governors State University (GSU), Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters and a leader in STEM offered their viewpoints on diversity in instructional positions, creating avenues to entrepreneurship, managing student discipline and more.

A prevailing issue facing all African-American students at an ever-increasing rate is the heavy-handed enforcement of rules and regulations that result in the loss of instruction time in the classroom because of suspension and expulsion.

Stacy Davis Gates, a CTU representative and high school history teacher, said teachers should know better than anyone that their students face trauma, disinvestment and a sparsity of social workers to help them. She said school privatization and the marginalizing of parents within schools is a factor as well. In 2015, the Illinois Senate approved Senate Bill 100/Public Act 99-0456, which sought to address the issue of rampant suspensions and expulsions; however, she suggests more resources are necessary for the measure to succeed.

Thyatiria A. Towns, director of the Parent University at George Henry Corliss High School, acknowledged students of color — particularly Black and Latino — have been traditionally suspended at higher rates than others. She said in an effort to combat this issue, Dr. Janice Jackson, chief education officer for CPS, is spearheading a national model titled the Multi-tier Systems of Support (MTSS). MTSS aims to support students’ academic, social and emotional, and health and wellness through a framework that addresses students’ needs as needed.

Diversity among educators throughout all levels of education was addressed. Andrea E. Evans, dean of the College of Education at Governors State University, cited a study that stated students prefer teachers of color. She also stated the necessity for diversity should not be limited to only African-American and Latino students, but White students as well because they too need to see highly skilled African-American and Latino individuals, as that helps shape their perceptions.

“In Illinois, there’s some concern at the lack of diversity in the teacher workforce; one of the things we deans across Illinois are really concerned about is there are so few teachers of color, so few Black teachers in the pipeline, that’s really a problem, it’s a concern for me personally,” said Evans.

She said within the African-American community, highly talented individuals have opted to go into other professions, but teaching should be viewed as a valued position.

“I think the profession has been vilified and waned —teaching is an honorable profession, and I think we need to do more as professionals at the state level to talk about teaching as honorable public service,” said Evans.

Criminal Stigma

But what of the students who have criminal backgrounds? The panel discussed some suggestions as to how to best move forward. Jonathan Jones, a representative from Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, said there are opportunities for ex-offenders within his profession except on federal projects. He said policies need to change because typically, when given the opportunity, employers chose to hire the individual without a criminal background. He described the stigma faced by individuals returning home from imprisonment amounts to nothing short of a life sentence in the court of public opinion despite time already served.

“I believe in order to attack this, we would have to have some involvement from our government on a federal as well as a state level, maybe set aside some funding to give folks an opportunity to get them back into the workplace,” said Jones.

He clarified that unions do not hire individuals, but instead train them, stating it is up union contract partners to actually hire apprentices.

The progression of education to career to entrepreneurship received a variety of robust, unique and innovative suggestions. Kenneth Hill, CEO of Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering Program, had a creative idea of leveraging one of the African-American community’s strongest industries into a venture-capitalist fund to offer a new means of support for a different part of the workforce.

“We have very successful funeral homes. Why can’t they create a venture-capitalist fund, and that some of the people we are talking about come with their ideas of business plan to be supported?” said Hill.


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