“The community here takes LSC elections very seriously — just as seriously as Hillary and Barack,” said Darryl Bell of Teamwork Englewood .
The group is one of a dozen around the city working with “minigrants” from the CPS Office of LSC Relations  to recruit candidates for April LSC elections. The deadline for candidates to file is March 12.
PURE recently posted an updated guide to LSC elections (pdf ).
Bell reports enthusiasm among community residents for the elections — in part motivated by concern over the consolidation of the Miles Davis Magnet and Vernon Johns Middle Schools. He said the change could create trouble by requiring students to cross gang boundaries.
Bob Vondrasek at South Austin Coalition reports a bit more difficulty in recruiting candidates. Organizers have encountered some negative attitudes toward LSCs, he said.
“Some go bad. Some are controlled by the principal,” he said. “But even with all the flaws, they’re still doggone worth having. They’re the only way you can have some kind of voice in the school.
“At it’s best, a good LSC and a good principal are the two key things. You get more parental involvement and more community involvement.”
“It’s extremely difficult motiving parents to run for LSCs when the board continues trying to close or turn-around schools” — acting unilaterally, without consulting their LSCs, said Wanda Hopkins, a parent advocate at PURE  and LSC member at Lewis school who’s working with SAC on candidate recruitment.
SAC staff help out every day with traffic control and supervising students when school lets out at May Elementary; the group is also working with others to get a new high school for Austin, Vondrasek said.
Mary Kennedy of the Beverly Area Planning Association  goes to community meetings to “give information and a pep talk” and works with community residents to find candidates at schools which don’t have full LSC slates. Most LSCs in the area “run very well,” she said. The group is also running ads  and planning candidate forums.
Recruiting candidates is an extension of ongoing work in schools for these groups. BAPA holds principal meetings and parent workshops through the year.
Logan Square Neighborhood Association has an extensive array of school programs  — including community learning centers, a leadership training program for parent mentors, literacy ambassadors, and a youth-led dropout prevention and college preparation campaign. The organization pioneered the Grow Your Own neighborhood teacher development program, now sponsored by the state.
LSCs and their power to select principals mean that “principals respect the parents and the community because they have to, and they have a real voice and they’re listened to,” said LSNA education organizer Bridget Murphy.
LSNA member Araceli Carrillo is on the Monroe School LSC and running for a second term. She started out as a volunteer in the school two years before her first LSC term.
“I like to be part of this because they let us give our opinions regarding what the school needs, and we talk about what is best for the school and the students,” she said. “The parents, the principal and the teachers talk together…. Everybody wants the best for the students.”
Organization of the North East  also has parent mentors with leadership development training and participates in the Grow Your Own program, as well as parent committees, principal and parent breakfasts and parent rountables, said education organizer Astrid Suarez. Parent involvement is their key concern, she said.
“The traditional ways CPS has to facilitate parental involvement are not really helpful,” she said. Members of bilingual committees, for example, don’t like the way CPS controls their agenda. ONE seeks to build “a culture of collaboration,” she said.
Parent mentors are “very important for immigrant parents,” Suarez said. “The system can be intimidating to parents who are immigrants, and parent mentors become their liasons.” It’s also helpful for African-American parents, she said. Parents who volunteer in schools get experience that helps them serve on LSCs.
One of ONE’s main recruiting goals is ensuring the diversity of the school community — dozens of languages are spoken in some schools — is represented on LSCs. Parents are concerned about the quality of bilingual education and want to develop multicultural curricula that are more meaningful, she said.
Other groups with CPS minigrants to recruit candidates include Alliance for Community Peace, Community Lifeline Foundation, Little Village Community Development Corporation, Partnership for Education Growth, South Side United LSC Federation, and West Town Leadership United.
Lawsuit and legislation
A lawsuit by LSCs at three small schools backed by PURE (pdf ) is seeking an injunction to order CPS to hold regular LSC elections at schools carved out of old high schools in April. Parents there vote in “advisory polls” and CPS appoints an “advisory” LSC — in violation of the state school code, the suit charges.
After an LSC was established in 2006 at the School of Entrepreneurship at South Shore, it was informed the principal was resigning — “and it was preferred that we not conduct a principal search but accept the interim principal” chosen by CPS, said Valencia Rias, an LSC member and plaintiff in the suit.
Communicating with the principal has been “fairly difficult” for council members, and “there’s been no communication with parents other than report cards,” said Rias, an organizer with Designs for Change  and South Side United LSC Federation. The school faces many challenges, she said — very low achievement levels, lack of textbooks, discipline and building facility issues. But the principal is acountable only to CPS administrators.
The lawsuit could be expanded to include other schools created by CPS in recent years without elected LSCs, said Julie Woestehoff of PURE. “CPS has basically driven a Mack truck through a small loophole in the school reform law,” she said.
About 90 percent of CPS students attend schools governed by LSCs, said Don Moore of Designs for Change. “This is a unique institution among cities in the nation, and it’s the largest body of elected officials of color in the U.S.”
Said Moore: “The mayor and the school system for the most part never mention LSCs and behave as if they don’t exist, so it’s important to get the word out that these positions are open.”
Meanwhile, the Mid South Education Association is inviting state legislators to a public hearing April 12 at Kennicott Park on a resolution calling for more support for LSCs. The resolution was passed by the House last year and was introduced in the upper chamber by State Senator Mattie Hunter in February. Organizer Jitu Brown said they’ll be working to close loopholes and require LSCs at all schools in coming months.
[Catalyst reports on declining support from foundations and CPS for community groups recruiting LSC candidates here .]