At a school that led protests, some interesting candidates for local school council

A Chicago school that vociferously protested school budget cuts last summer has some interesting candidates running for its local school council, among them a former member of the Chicago Board of Education.

March 18, 2014

WBEZ/Becky Vevea
File: Blaine Elementary in Chicago.

A former Chicago Board of Education member is running for what many would consider a far less prestigious position: local school council member at two different Chicago public schools.

Rodrigo Sierra was handpicked by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011 to serve on the city’s school board. He stayed until the end of 2012, when Emanuel asked him to become a commissioner for the Chicago Housing Authority.

Now, Sierra is running for LSC as a parent representative at InterAmerican Magnet school and as a community representative at Blaine Elementary near his home.

Blaine and its outspoken principal and LSC were among the loudest in the city to protest budget cuts last summer.  In an unusual move, Blaine’s council voted to reject its budget to send a message to CPS.  One of Blaine’s current LSC community representatives, Kate Schott Bolduc, helped form a coalition of more than 80 LSCs citywide to protest budget cuts and advocate for more funding.

Sierra will face Bolduc and two other candidates in the April LSC election; the two top vote getters win. Sierra says his candidacy is not about trying to silence dissent at Blaine, or anywhere else.

“What I saw across the city were people really passionate about education, about their kids, speaking out,” says Sierra. “I wholeheartedly support that. People should be interested and passionate about their children’s education—it’s the most important thing we can be focused on right now. ”

Sierra says it would be “a big surprise” to him if the mayor or anyone on the school board knew he was running.

“This is just my own personal passion and interest in helping these schools be the best that they can be,” says Sierra, who served as deputy press secretary under Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Jill Wohl, a former parent and current community member on the InterAmerican LSC, says she thinks it’s valuable for high-level school officials to get a taste of what it’s like running a school day-to-day.

“It’s not as easy as rubber stamping policies sent down from the mayor’s office,” says Wohl. “The 50,000-foot view is really different than what it looks like in the weeds. Too many times I’ve seen policies come top-down, and not be informed by how they’re going to play out on the ground.”

Also running for a seat on Blaine’s LSC is an employee of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, communications manager Jodie Cantrell.

That’s raising questions for parents like Tony Porfirio, the current chair of the council.

“Charter schools and neighborhood schools are battling for the same dollars. And I don’t know that I would consider it an amicable relationship right now. I think most people that believe in neighborhood schools feel that charter schools are taking money from neighborhood schools’ budgets,” saysPorfirio.

Cantrell says she is running based on a deep interest in education and a desire to get more involved in the Lakeview community where she’s lived for two years. She says she wants to help schools figure out how to offer students a great education despite budget cuts.

Cantrell and Sierra say they don’t know each other.

Cantrell did not disclose on her candidate statement that she works for a charter school advocacy organization, but she says she plans to do that tonight at Blaine’s local school council candidate forum.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools says three of its 16 staffers are candidates for local school councils, but INCS president Andrew Broy says “we don’t have any strategy around this. This is just what people are deciding to do on their own time.”

Linda Lutton is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her @WBEZeducation