Chicago Panel drops research for fact-finding

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After 15 years of in-depth research on issues ranging from school finance to student mobility, the Chicago Panel on School Policy is switching to fact-finding on specific school programs. It also is getting into the business of promoting effective parent-school partnerships.

The change follows the departure of longtime executive director Fred Hess, who is now a research professor in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University.

Since August, the Panel has produced three Initiative Status Reports: one on communications between schools and central office, one on the Parents as Teachers First program and one on the small schools program. The reports were distributed to a variety of individuals involved in school change, including the administrators who oversee the programs, funders and policy makers who support them, local school council members, parents, educators and employers.

“We want to promote healthy debate on how these initiatives are proceeding,” says Executive Director Barbara Buell. “We are not in the business of throwing bricks. We’re in the business of getting information to people so they can examine what they need to do.”

Buell says the Panel will follow up, too. In the case of communications between central office and schools, for example, “We want to see if they hire a specialist, a communications auditor to look into the problem.”

In the future, the Panel will convene a forum after each status report is issued so that concerned individuals can discuss ways to make the program more effective.

In the area of parent involvement, the Panel held two forums this spring and summer; the next one is scheduled for October 23 at the Westside Technical Institute.

Founded in 1982 as the Chicago Panel on Public School Finance, the group initially tracked the school system’s revenue and spending. Buell says she hopes to resume budget analysis next year.

Buell previously was a bilingual education teacher at City Colleges of Chicago and Clemente High School; she also taught at two Catholic schools.

The Panel’s board of directors includes President Luis Salces of LMS Communications, Inc., Vice President David Simpson of Youth Guidance, Secretary Lauren Allen, an educational consultant, and Treasurer Eileen Gill of the Junior League of Chicago.