Members of several West Side Local School Councils gathered last Saturday to speak at a public hearing in support of strengthening the relationship between LSCs and Chicago Public Schools.

Taking place at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St., several Local School Council supporters addressed what they viewed as a diminished role of the elected body in recent years.

LSC support organizations, including Designs for Change, and Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), began convening testimonial hearings this year.

Saturday’s session was the third in the city since April.

“There definitely needs to be some changes made to shore up the relationship between the council and the school,” said Cecile Carroll, a member of non-profit organization Blocks Together. “Many times when the councils hold meetings at the schools there are no postings around the school, so parents don’t have an opportunity to attend. Usually, the meetings have to be on the principal’s schedule. This invariably leads to a conflict since many parents and council members are only available in the evenings, which conflicts with the principals’ schedule.”

Supporters argued that the council’s role has been slowly diminished by such factors as Renaissance 2010, the city’s school restructuring plan to close under-performing schools and opening smaller schools in the shuttered buildings. Much of the control for those small schools rest with the organizations that run them, leaving a lesser role for the LSCs, supporters have argued.

Bonita Robinson, a 36-year elementary school teacher, brought up statewide testing and the failure of LSCs and CPS to jointly address the disparities in scores she’s witnessed. Robinson testified to seeing inaccuracies in student standardized test scores under the federal No Child Left Behind law. She argued that NCLB has led to an increase in students’ test scores in Illinois, but no significant improvement on national exams.

“[According to] 67 percent of Illinois students were reading at grade level and 80 percent of students were at grade level in Math in 2005,” said Robinson. “However, when they looked at the national test scores, it was discovered that only 29 percent and 32 percent were at reading and math levels respectively.

“LSCs and CPS have yet to get on the same page with regards to these disparities,” she added. “Our children are suffering as a result.”

LSC supporters are also pushing for state legislation that will, according to Rasalla Bernard, an LSC member: “Place the responsibility for achievement back in the parents’ hands. We have the right to have a say in how our children are educated and who educates them.”

That includes choosing a principal for their school, a responsibility LSCs historically have had, and having more say in school funding.

Trina Hollingsworth, who serves as an assistant principal for a South Shore high school, suggested changing the policy of replacing a school’s principal and assistant principal at the same time.

“The way policy is right now, if a school’s principal is fired, the assistant is also fired regardless of the job they have done. I think there certainly needs to be more effort made by CPS to allow LSCs the opportunity to give their input into the job the assistant has done,” Hollingsworth said, “especially, since they have more first-hand experience observing the assistant and can better evaluate their performance.”

The findings from the hearings will be presented to an LSC taskforce. The final hearing will take place at the University of Illinois at Chicago on Aug. 23.

History of Local School Councils

Local School Councils are on-site school management teams composed of principals, teachers, parents and community members. In high schools, a student representative is a member.

In 1988, the Chicago School Reform Act passed, shifting key decision-making responsibilities to parents and Local School Councils. The first LSC was elected in October 1989.

The LSCs historically have developed and monitored school improvement plans, selected and evaluated the school’s principal, and developed and monitored their school’s budget. Council elections are held on the second semester Report Card Pick-Up Day in April of every even-numbered year.

Parent, community, and teacher representatives serve a two-year term beginning July 1, after each election and ending June 30, two years later. Student representatives serve a one-year term beginning July 1, and ending June 30, the following year.

Beginning in 1995, incoming LSC members were required to take an 18-hour training program within six months of taking office. There are six mandatory lessons that LSC members are required to take. For the remaining three lessons, they can choose from a variety of Chicago Board of Education-approved topics.

Membership breakdown

1 – Principal

6 – Parent representatives

2 – Community representatives

2 – Teacher representatives and on occasion, one student representative

Courtesy Chicago Public Schools and Medill News Service

For more information visit the CPS website at: ments/OSCR/local_school_councils.html