Illinois African Americans for Equitable Redistricting (IAAFER) co-founder Valerie Leonard shows off the coalition's proposed Chicago Board of Education election map | Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

West Side aldermen joined the coalition of local advocates to demand that Chicago Public Schools district take bigger, stronger steps toward improving Black student achievement.  

The group called on elected officials to pass a state law that would require CPS to create a committee that would focus on how to improve the persistent lagging scores among these students.

They also renewed a push for its proposed election map for the Chicago Board of Education, something that the Illinois General Assembly is still considering ahead of the Nov. 5, 2024 election. They raised alarm about Black principals being fired from schools across Chicago, arguing that it is a part of a broader pattern.

“We need a board committee that is laser-focused on Black children,” Valerie Leonard, the group’s co-founder, told Austin Weekly News. “They need to develop a strategic management process that looks at the data, develops a plan that addresses internal capacity to implement, as well as actual strategies that will close the gap, and then a report card to report the progress.” Leonard also cofounded the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council.

The coalition, called Illinois African Americans for Equitable Redistricting, includes of members of the Chicago Westside Branch NAACP, and former Chicago Board of Education member and long-time Ausitn community activist Dwayne Truss.

The group reiterated their call at a news conference right before the Sept. 28 Chicago Board of Education meeting, which took place at Austin College and Career Academy High School. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, CPS officials announced they would create an advisory team for Black student success as part of the five-year strategic plan for the district.

During the news conference, the activists said that it was only natural to talk about both election districts and student achievement.

“It’s all connected around Black,” Truss said. “We’re not here to damn anyone else, we’re here to illuminate us.”

“We call on [everyone] to support the nap,” said Karl Brinson, president of the West Side NAACP branch. “We call on them to support the Black Student Achievement Study Committee, and make sure that our Black principals and Black teachers and Black students get a transparent process as they go through the process [of getting fired or disciplined].”

Black student achievement at Chicago public schools has been an ongoing concern that only deepened during the pandemic. A Chalkbeat Chicago analysis of Illinois Achievement in Readiness state assessment test data showed that while the percentage of African American elementary school students who meet or exceed expectations has increased, they still lag behind other demographic groups. Most notably, only 7.8% of students met or exceeded math standards, compared to 53% of Asian students and 48.1% Leonard said that IAAFER decided to lobby to make the committee a matter of state law after they became convinced that CPS wasn’t going to do it on their own.

The city is in the process of creating an elected school board. By law, the city is to be divided into 10 districts and Chicagoans are to elect 10 board members for four-year terms. Mayor Brandon Johnson will then appoint 10 more board members – one per reach district — and a city-wide board president for 2-year terms. During the November 2026 midterm election, the city will be divided into 20 districts, and Chicagoans are to elect 10 board members to replace the Johnson appointees, who will serve for four-year terms. This would create staggered terms.  

The IAAFER proposal combines the existing 50 wards into 10 districts, with the goal of creating four “majority/plurality” Black districts, three majority/plurality Hispanic districts and three majority/plurality white districts. Most of the West Side wards would fall into one of the majority-Black districts. 

At the news conference, Leonard reiterated the argument that using the ward boundaries as a base would be the most straight-forward option, since most voters already know what ward they’re in, and would facilitate collaboration between aldermen and board members.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who chairs the city council’s Black Caucus, expressed his support for the IAAFER map.

“Most people know what ward they live in,” he said. “To have the 28th ward chopped up in 4-5 district like they do [on the General Assembly map proposed last summer] makes no sense.”

The Illinois House proposal keeps the West Side districts closer to community borders, keeping Austin and North Lawndale largely within the same districts while splitting West and East Garfield Parks between different districts.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), whose ward includes the Ausitn High School, agreed.

“We want to make sure we’re not divided among each other when the districts are drawn,” she said.

 The Illinois Senate Special Committee on the Chicago Elected Representative School Board also have scheduled two virtual public hearings about the new school board map – one on Oct. 3 and one on Oct. 12, both at 5 p.m.  The meeting links will be posted on the General Assembly website.

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...