La Shawn K. Ford, 8th District state representative Democratic nominee and chairman of Learning Through Arts Society, hosted an education summit in Oak Park Thursday May 18.

The forum, taking place at Oak Park and River Forest High School, 201 N. Scoville, gave Ford an opportunity to talk with parents and teachers to discuss issues affecting the 8th district.

“We are rapidly approaching the completion of another school year and as we conclude this year, I’d like to invite you to reflect on the issues and concerns that impact the quality of education in our 8th state representative district,” said Ford.

The 8th District covers Austin and portions of Oak Park, Riverside and Berwyn.

Ford, in conjunction with Learning Through Arts Society, organized the summit to being developing a legislative agenda for the 8th District, he said

Ford, a former Chicago public school teacher, stressed that this is only the first of many meetings planned in the district. Ford said such a dialogue within the community is one of the building blocks to an improved education system.

Among the issues addressed, the merits of charter schools.

The roundtable group of about 20 tackled the charter school vs. public school issue. Opinions were split on whether charter schools were a more viable ?” albeit expensive -option for parents looking to improve their students’ education.

John Hay School Principal Beryl Guy said she’s been pushing for her school to become a charter school for some time. Guy added that the “methodic organization” of charter schools would be welcomed in school’s without a plan in place for handling academic underachievement.

“Going in, all parties, from the teachers, to the children to the parents know what is expected of them,” Guy said of charter schools. “I feel as though charter schools are put in place to succeed because before the child is even enrolled, issues regarding curriculum and funding are already handled, helping everyone get on the same page.”

But some in the group wondered if taxpayers were disproportionately footing the bill for the charter school system.

“I don’t like charter schools because you have no control over your child’s education even

though your tax dollars are going directly to support them,” said Dorothy Henderson, a member of the West Side Health Authority Local School Council. “It gives the responsibility of your child’s academic experience to one school board or educational organization, and it will not allow you to oppose its decision-making.”

Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 plan to close and then re-open under-performing schools as charter, contract or performance schools was also criticized by some.

Austin High School, 231 N. Pine, stopped accepting freshman in 2003, and will open this fall with one of three slated smaller specialty schools for the campus.

The charter school model under Daley’s plan, some argued, ignored the issues facing children in certain school districts.

“Why does Renaissance 2010 only seem to affect the black community on the West Side?” said Cata Truss, an Austin resident and member of the Austin High School Transitional Advisory Council. “It’s like they’re saying ‘look, we can’t help your kids okay? So we’re just going to throw something out there and you find a way to adjust.'”

Truss said another concern was parental involvement, or lack there of.

“When I was in school it was mandatory that parents attend at least two meetings per semester in order for their child to attend a school,” said Truss. “However, now without this type of rule in place, the only time parents EVER come up to the school is if their child was involved in a physical altercation. We literally have to bribe parents to get them to show up at Local School Council meetings.”

Ford suggested organizing a parent’s night, particularly at Hay School, that “would allow us to get input from the parents before the new semester began. Granted, coaxing may be required the first few times, but perhaps we can begin the dialogue that is sorely needed.”