Austin’s Spencer Technology Academy and DePriest Elementary School each received $500,000 each to improve programs and services for students and their families. 

The grant is part of Chicago Public Schools’ Sustainable Community School Initiative, which will give a total of $10 million to 20 schools throughout Chicago. Each school has been paired with an area community organization and/or social service provider. The idea is to pair schools with social service providers to help students succeed by providing social and academic support to students and their families. 

The exact details will vary depending on each school. The community groups are currently working with their respective partner schools to figure those particulars out. The programs are expected to kick off sometime this October.

According to a press release issued by CPS, Chicago Board of Education approved the Sustainable Community School Initiative during its June meeting. A 20-member taskforce made up of CPS officials and unionized staff handled the details of the implementation. They agreed that the initiative will only be open to the neighborhood public schools. 

They also agreed that, in order to be able to take part in the initiative, the school must be located in “a primarily low-income community with 81 percent or more of the students qualifying for free or reduced lunch.” 

The eligible schools could not only apply, but choose which agency they wanted to work with. DePriest chose Family Focus,  a West Loop based non-profit that provides early childhood services, youth development services and services for parents and other family members. Spencer chose Youth Guidance, a Loop-based non-profit that works with schools to provide programs for minority youth. 

The 20 schools that made the cut were officially announced on Aug. 7. 

According to the press release, the nonprofits will work with the schools they partnered with to develop the details of what they would use the $500,000 for. That can include afterschool programs, as well health services, “social and emotional learning supports,” recreational and academic enrichment activities, assistance and support for homeless youth, and programs geared toward families.

In the district’s statement, CPS CEO Janice Jackson described the initiative as an investment not just in schools, but in the families they served.

“By bringing together community members and educators under the shared mission of strengthening the supports our students and families need to thrive, the Sustainable Community Schools Initiative has the power to transform communities and create new opportunities for our students,” she stated. 

“Our investment will provide critical services and programming to 20 school communities across the district in a manner that is tailored to the unique needs of each community and designed to effectively support the students and families who need our support the most.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated that more collaboration between schools and communities would benefit everyone.

“The Sustainable Community Schools Initiative will help foster collaboration and cooperation between schools and communities in neighborhoods across Chicago,” he stated. “This is a win for our students, our schools and our communities.”

An attempt to contact CPS officials for comment before deadline were unsuccessful.  


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...