Chicago Parents Take Control

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While parental involvement means bake sales in most school districts, parents in Chicago are about to take the concept to new heights by assuming unprecedented control over their public schools.

On Oct. 11 and 12, local school councils made up of a majority of parents will be elected at each of the city's nearly 600 schools. Over the next few years, these councils will gain the power to hire and fire principals, approve school budgets, and develop a plan for long-range improvements in educational programs and student performance.

The elections come almost two years after the conclusion of a 19-day teacher strike that galvanized the community to seek dramatic changes in the way the city's public schools were governed.

In contrast to other cities, where school officials and teacher leaders have played the major roles in shaping reform plans, Chicago's broad-based reform movement has been led primarily by community activists and businessmen who distrusted the traditional education establishment.

The resulting plan, which was approved by the Illinois legislature last fall, abolished the old board of education and severely restricted the number of central administrators. Teachers lost their right to obtain transfers based on seniority, and the minimum time for unsatisfactory teachers to show improvement was reduced from one year to 45 days.

Teachers have been allotted two seats on the new local school councils and will also be allowed to form professional personnel committees to advise the principal and the councils on matters relating to curriculum and instruction.

Continuing its opposition to the plan, the Chicago Principals Association is pressing a lawsuit in state court seeking to block some of its major provisions. Although principals gain new authority over hiring and evaluating all school personnel under the plan, they lose lifetime tenure, which they claim in their lawsuit is a property right that cannot be revoked.

Vol. 01, Issue 01, Page 24

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