‘All of our policies are about serving all children’

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I am writing in response to the distorted and factually inaccurate article “Affluent neighborhoods get magnet school edge” published in the February 1998 issue of Catalyst. Particularly disturbing is the position Mr. Weissmann attributes to me that I “hoped the set-aside policy would, in fact, encourage young, upscale couples in gentrifying neighborhoods like Bucktown and Near West Side to stay in the city when their children reach school age.”

Mr. Weissmann has taken my comments completely out of context and manipulated language to conveniently support the premise of his story. The conversations he references were an interview where I spent about one hour talking to a Chicago Sun Times reporter and nearly 45 minutes with Mr. Weissmann discussing the purpose and intent of the Chicago Public Schools magnet policy. For Mr. Weissmann to state my position as perpetuating a policy for only the middle class is a complete misrepresentation of my interview. In case Catalyst has missed the point regarding the purpose of the magnet school policy or any other initiative the Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees has undertaken over the past two and a half years, all of our policies are about serving all children of Chicago.

Your article states that the School Board sent this year’s magnet school brochure to 11,000 parents whose children attend private preschools, inferring that the CPS was recruiting only affluent preschool-aged students. First, not all children who attend private preschools are affluent. Second, Mr. Weissmann’s article failed to acknowledge that nearly 250,000 magnet brochures were distributed, of which 5,900 were in Spanish. The distribution included the Chicago Park District, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, education reform organizations, Chicago Public Libraries, Chicago Association of Realtors, the Chicago Public Schools, walk-ins and responses to telephone requests. To highlight the distribution of 11,000 brochures and not mention the other 239,000 brochures is a blatant example of Mr. Weissmann’s attempt to skew the facts.

Finally, Mr. Weissmann identifies the number and location of magnet schools that will hold a proximity lottery for the 1999-2000 school year. His representation is simply wrong. Mr. Weissmann cannot possibly identify what schools will hold a proximity lottery in 1999 because this determination has not been made. Furthermore, the data upon which this determination is made does not yet exist. According to Board policy, the determination of which schools will hold a proximity lottery for the upcoming school year is based upon neighborhood enrollment of the current year. Consequently, while it is true that the Board intends to move to the goal of enrolling at least 30 percent neighborhood students in magnet schools beginning with the 1999-2000 school year after some review, the process of identifying which schools fall short of this goal will not occur until November 1998. Theoretically, this number can change every year.

In closing, I reiterate to Catalyst that the programs, policies and initiatives implemented by this administration are about Children First, not poor children, not rich children, not black, white, Latino, Asian or any other group of children, but all children. The public is always better served by delivering the truth, not a message of division by class.

Gery J. Chico, president

Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees

Editor’s response:

We don’t understand why Mr. Chico’s complaint is directed at Catalyst instead of the Sun-Times or Crain’s Chicago Business. The Sun-Times reported: “Chico said he hopes a new effort to set aside some magnet school seats for neighborhood kids will persuade such families [younger families in the gentrifying neighborhoods of the Near West Side and West Town] to stay in the city.” We sought and printed this clarification from Mr. Chico: “The magnet school policy will appeal to all areas of the city, not just these gentrifying areas. Does this have application in certain areas differently? Yeah, perhaps. But the board’s motivation was to make the magnet program appeal to all people of Chicago.”

We also asked him about a Jan. 12 Crain’s article, “CPS targets city’s upper crust in new promotional campaign,” which reported that 11,000 copies of the system’s magnet school brochure had been mailed to parents of private-school toddlers. He offered no criticism of that story.

Central office supplied the names of magnet schools where neighborhood children currently make up less than 30 percent of enrollment. Indeed, if those schools increase their local enrollment enough this fall, they may not have to hold a proximity lottery next year.