50 Wards in 50 Weekdays: 41st Ward teacher Megan Vogt puts Mayor Emanuel in a time-out
Megan Vogt has lived on Chicago’s Far Northwest Side for much of her life. She’s spent the last nine in a neighborhood called Big Oaks, named after a golf course that’s no longer. Back in the day, her house would’ve been on the course, she says.
“I love the trees. It’s shady. Just the fact that it’s an established neighborhood, and it doesn’t look like a cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood,” Vogt says.
“We have great neighbors. Everybody gets along really well. You know you walk up and down the block everybody says, 'Hi.' It’s a really nice neighborhood to live in. There’s tons of kids now for all the little ones to play with.”
Tons of kids – yes, including Vogt’s 1 ½-year-old – but not tons of places for those kids to play.
“Toddler parks: There are none. There’s a little bitty toddler park over at Norwood Park, and it’s decrepit,” she says. “There’s still a nice one [a couple blocks away] at Beard School, but they lock it. So you can’t get into it.”
Vogt says her daughter “just learned the word ‘no’ a couple days ago, so, yeah, it’s a lot of fun.”
And she’ll have plenty of time to have those fun talks with her daughter the next few weeks. Vogt is a special education teacher at nearby Taft High School, and it’s summer break.
“Just hanging out. Doing mommy-daughter things,” she says.
We're talking in a neighbor's yard, and at least twice in our short interview, a jet storms by overhead. O’Hare Airport is less than ten minutes away by car (and I guess a lot faster by plane), but Vogt doesn’t bring up the noise when I ask about her gripes. She mentions those parks, and she mentions her job.
Local officials, she says, “could have parents actually take responsibility for their own children, instead of foisting it off on others. I mean, that’s really my big concern. But, you know, telling parents they’re not parenting is not going to get you re-elected. So they don’t do it.”
“I think a lot of people aren’t bad parents. They just don’t know how to parent. There needs to be resources for people to learn how to be good parents.”
You probably see where this conversation is headed. I ask Vogt about the teacher contract talks and the threatened strike. She doesn’t want one, but thinks it’s likely.
“To put all the blame on teachers and to say we’re getting paid too much and we’re not working long enough, we’re not working hard enough, we’re not doing any of these things, is ludicrous, I mean, it’s a group effort. Everybody has to do their part.”
And as for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s push for a longer school day, set to kick-in next school year across the district, Vogt is indignant.
“It bothers me that I’m taking time away from my own child to spend more time with someone else’s children when the research shows that that’s not where the resources need to go,” she says. "Resources need to go into smaller class sizes and to more art and music and those types of things. Not a longer school day.”
Vogt’s problems with Emanuel extend beyond the schools. She takes issue with how he makes decisions, in general.
“I think that he is somewhat like a petulant two-year-old, where he has his stance and that’s what he wants and…regardless of what anybody else says or anybody else thinks, that’s what he’s going to do.”
Wow. So, here’s guessing Vogt won’t be volunteering for Emanuel’s campaign in 2015. But these two North Siders do have something in common: neither is too interested in sending their kids to Chicago Public Schools.
“I went to Catholic schools,” Vogt says. “[My daughter’s] probably going to go to Catholic school, too. And…I think the teachers are doing a really good job. I just don’t necessarily want her exposed to some of the other kids.”
And, as Emanuel himself would point out, that is a personal decision parents must make, regardless of their jobs.
But for Vogt, the decision is a few years away. For now, she has an iced coffee drink in hand. She's got two more months for doing that “mommy-daughter thing.”
Or longer, if that strike happens that no one seems to want.