The Chicago Teachers Union and community groups came together Wednesday to celebrate the school district’s decision to fund 20 “sustainable community schools.”
Organizations in these schools will work to bring in a host of programs and services, such as GED programs for parents, health services, and after-school activities. The effort targets neighborhood elementary schools and high schools struggling with low enrollment.
Community schools are not new in Chicago, but this effort stands out because the school district is committing $10 million to it, and the Chicago Teachers Union is collaborating with Chicago Public Schools to develop it.
The CTU convinced the school district to pilot a well-funded community schools program as part of its 2015 contract negotiations.
At a press conference Wednesday, Jhoanna Maldonado, who teaches at Yates Elementary School in Logan Square on the Near Northwest Side, said she hopes the community school will help keep families in the neighborhood.
“It will make the school a community resource navigation center for families and the surrounding areas struggling with housing, immigration, and other issues,” Maldonado said. “In the surrounding Logan Square area, we are suffering from gentrification. They are threatening our schools. They are pushing our families out and they are starving our schools of resources.”
The pilot also will focus on bringing in what are known as restorative justice programs, including peer juries and peace circles. For many years, Chicago Public Schools policy has called for these activities, rather than punitive discipline like suspension.
But CTU leaders said the school district has failed to fund restorative justice efforts. They said this is critically important because with so much violence in the city, this is a way to teach how to handle conflicts peacefully.
In a statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Janice Jackson lauded the benefits of the program. “This is a win for our students, our schools, and our communities,” Emanuel said.
But CTU leaders charge Emanuel and school district officials of dragging their feet on implementation. Jennifer Johnson, the CTU staff person responsible for coordinating the effort, said it took two years of negotiating to make it come to fruition.
And Johnson also said she is frustrated that the school district would only commit to one year of funding, making it questionable whether “sustainable community schools” will continue past this year.
However, Johnson and others said they hope the model will be so effective that the school district will bring this model to make all Chicago public schools.