For many, public schools are the first experience of democracy. However, for most, trust in the experience of democracy is subsequently eroded over time as investment dwindles and structural violence increases.
In Chicago Public Schools, this issue is most acutely felt by Black and Hispanic-identifying students who make up the majority (~80%) of the system’s 340,000 students. Students in this system are often political footballs, tossed around by the Mayor, the Teacher’s Union, and even at times by parents.
They are then sent off into a world in which they hope to be prepared for what comes but have literally no resource or support to tap into. It is no coincidence that many of those experiencing economic instability and intra-community violence are Chicago Public Schools alumni.
The Chicago Public Schools Alumni Association (CPSAA) is designed to serve two purposes at once. First, the CPSAA is a vehicle for alumni from this school system to offer their perspective, advice, and social capital to mentor students and other alumni. It also acts as a mechanism to direct their financial resources towards solutions that might otherwise be stunted by the formal structures of Chicago Public Schools. Second, the CPSAA is an accountability apparatus for the school system’s governance.
Last year, Illinois passed legislation that mandated the creation of Chicago’s first elected school board. No community should have more say than the people who are most familiar and most directly impacted by the decisions of this governing body. CPSAA must play that role.
The CPSAA will be a model to help other communities.
Upon further research, it is clear that no major public school system in the U.S. has a mechanism for its alumni to convene, offer insight, and to ensure equitable outcomes. The CPSAA will be a model to help other communities develop their own approaches to similar issues. Using the Landecker team’s expertise and advice to scale this effort will be extremely helpful.
Updated November 2022