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Strengthening LSCs

The Kenwood Oakland Community Organization is hosting a legislative hearing on strengthening LSCs this Saturday, April 12 starting at 11:15 a.m. at Kennicott Park, 4434 S. Lake Park.

KOCO and allies successfully pushed for passage of a resolution last year which declared that the Illinois House of Representatives “support[s] the empowerment of Local School Councils as local, publicly-elected decision-making bodies” and authorized subject matter hearings on the needs of LSCs.

LSC members from across the city will testify Saturday about why LSCs are needed, how they work in particular schools, and how they could be better supported.

LSCs bring “community wisdom” — a grassroots perspective that is often lacking from CPS decision-making, said Jitu Brown, KOCO’s education organizer and a member of the Dyett High School LSC.

Brown cites the disastrous transfer of students from Englewood High to other South Side schools, disregarding community concerns about security and gang issues. “Dyett exploded,” he recalls. “Hyde Park exploded. Who do you hold accountable for that?

“The school district doesn’t understand community dynamics,” Brown said.

He also points to the closing of successful neighborhood schools which “should serve as models” for a system with a huge dropout rate.

More fundamentally, “As people of color we have to be sure there’s public accountability because there’s a demonstrated record of our not receiving the resources or the quality of services that we’re supposed to get, because of our color,” Brown said. “CPS has a disastrous record in terms of equity in distribution of resources.”

Some schools have a laptop for each student, others one or two computers in each classroom, he said. “Why is it OK that Harper High has to use discretionary funds to hire teachers and security guards, and doesn’t have money for a band or debate team or school newspaper, and Walter Payton College Prep is a world-class facility? Why is that acceptable?”

When Brown joined the Dyett LSC is 2003, “there were seven books in its library,” he said. CPS had made a high school of a former middle school “without giving it the resources to be a high school.” The LSC there has worked to get resources and “make the school parent and community friendly,” he said. Brown contributes a life skills program for male students that is successful and growing; next week a group is visiting UIC.

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Recruiting LSC candidates

“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.

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