Council federations dot the city

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This story contains corrected material [updated 3:45 p.m. CT, 04/01/04]

Local school councils across the city increasingly are turning to each other for support, forming alliances to share ideas, provide training and work to strengthen councils as a whole. In some cases, they’re also forming ties with community organizations that can bring additional resources to the table. “This is very empowering,” says Nancy Jones, who works with councils for the Chicago Successful Schools Project. “They are trying to solve their own problems.” Here are a few:

South Side United LSC Federation

20 councils

Doris Sipp, a parent LSC member at Bennett/Shedd, sees power in numbers. “With the proper training, we can stand toe-to-toe with the system to bring about significant change.”

Formed last fall, the federation’s first organizing project was to get CPS to let more families apply for tutoring services mandated under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. On Feb. 11, it won coverage of its efforts in both the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune.

The reform group Designs for Change is helping the federation in its work.

Grand Boulevard LSC Exchange

15 councils

The exchange’s mission is three-fold: share ideas, be a unified voice when confronting CPS to make changes and have an impact on legislation involving schools and education.

“As a group, we have a lot of power,” says Stephen Mitchell, an Overton LSC member. “We can hold people accountable.”

Created last year and sponsored by the Chicago Urban League and the Grand Boulevard Federation, the group currently is working on ways to provide councils with training on principal selection.

After that, says Mitchell, “We’ll talk about next steps, which could be to look at the SIPPA [school improvement plans] or the budget.”

North Lawndale LSC Federation

29 councils

“Some LSCs don’t know what a good school looks like,” says Derrick Harris, a community rep at Herzl Elementary who heads the federation, launched in 2002. “Some members don’t know what their roles are and that they have the potential to make a great impact in their schools. We are trying to change that dynamic. This is how and why we came to be.”

The federation holds quarterly meetings to talk about LSC responsibilities, the importance of parent involvement and issues such as the No Child Left Behind Act. This spring, the federation also will be involved in LSC elections.

“We are looking at going school by school and putting together a slate that has an agenda and is not just running to run,” explains Harris. “A lot of these councils are ineffective. Some have no passion, no commitment and no purpose for why they chose to run.”

Kenwood/Oakland LSC Alliance

9 councils

Four years ago, the Kenwood/Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) became a CPS-approved training site for LSCs. In 2001, it helped launch the alliance.

“We believe that community-based organizations are an untapped resource for local school councils,” says Jitu Brown, a member of the alliance and KOCO. “This was strong in the 80s, and then it waned in the 90s. But now there are lots of efforts to get this going again.”

The alliance currently is working on a model for bringing together reform groups, community-based organizations and local school councils. (At Catalyst press time, the model was set to be presented at a citywide education summit.)

“Reform agencies need to build alliances with CBOs [community-based organizations] to make sure that the resources they have get to all the schools,” Brown explains. “And to do that, CBOs should be able to bring to the table parent organizations, councils, churches, neighborhood families, youth organizations and businesses that are interested in supporting schools.”

Austin LSC Network

27 councils

Last fall, the network partnered with the Austin Chamber of Commerce. “We found out that businesses wanted to work with schools, but they didn’t know how,” says Carol Johnson, a long-time LSC member at several schools who oversees the network. “Now they can through the network. We’re now talking about them adopting schools.”

In a pilot program, 10 businesses will provide store discounts to a select group of students, recommended by teachers and other staff, as an incentive to improve attendance, behavior and academic performance.

West Town Leadership United

6 councils

In 1998, West Town Leadership United formed an action council that began meeting every month so members could share ideas and information about what’s happening at their schools. In 1999, the action council created a parent policy committee to conduct research and advocacy on issues that affect councils and students citywide. (West Town Leadership United is also involved with housing and immigration issues.)

For instance, the parent committee successfully lobbied CPS to change the selection process for funding provided through Project CANAL (Creating a New Approach to Learning), a federally funded program to improve schools.

Instead of getting money “based on who knew who, now schools apply through a request for proposal, which makes it fair,” says Idida Perez, who heads the group.

The parent policy committee now includes councils and community organizations from West Town, Uptown, Englewood and Austin.

To contact Debra Williams, call (312) 673-3873 or send an e-mail to williams@catalyst-chicago.org.