A DEEPER DIVE INTO
FACING OUR SCHOOLS
IMPACT OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC
We know that many of the issues we are facing as a school district have been exacerbated by COVID-19, especially equitable access to school opportunities, student behavior, academic achievement, and enrollment declines contributing to longer-term budget concerns. All interrelated. Teachers and staff have faced an especially demoralizing few years. Students have faced unprecedented isolation. Many have endured trauma. Are we existentially exhausted?
The full scope of the COVID impact is in many ways still unknown, and it's manifesting in real time. On a daily basis, we're seeing its effect on students' mental health, teachers' mental health, classroom learning, student behavior, executive functioning, engagement, achievement, and more. We need to address this as a school community with courage and compassion.
At the district level, we've seen an overall decline in student enrollment throughout CPS (and LaSalle is no exception). The CPS funding formula still includes SBB - Student Based Budgeting. It is unclear what impact the enrollment decline could have on school budgets in the years to come, when schools will still need more resources than ever to support truly equitable access to critical learning and enrichment opportunities emerging from this pandemic. CPS asserts that we have a healthy outlook for FY2022 for the district, buoyed by COVID relief funding. How far will those relief dollars go? Additionally, CPS has delayed the rewriting of schools' continuous improvement work plans (CIWP) this year due to the intensity of the ongoing, COVID-disruptions that many schools have struggled with since fully reopening this year. We are emerging from this pandemic with uncertainty around what's possible, what we should be aiming towards, and what we can feasibly fund and support, especially longer term.
As the broader educational community continues to reflect on what equity, access, inclusion and belonging looks like in this new landscape -- IE with respect to institutional leadership, teaching, homework, assessments, student expectations, parent partnerships-- I hope to leverage my educator experience to support our community to close opportunity gaps in those areas as we emerge from this pandemic together. We need to honestly assess what equity and access looks like for our students and teachers now. Simultaneously, we may need to support growth-mindsets, and growth-infrastructures to foster more inclusive communities, ensuring that everyone feels valued and like they truly belong.
In my professional life as a writer, filmmaker, story consultant and professor, I’m known for my vision, creativity, and ideas, as well as the passion to follow through on them. Those traits allow me to see the education community not just for what it is, but also what it could be-- and to fight to make that vision a reality for the betterment of all our children.
ONGOING CHANGES TO CPS SCHOOL FUNDING FORMULA
When I first decided to run for LSC in early 2020, I began attending workshops to deepen my understanding of the complex issues that our CPS schools face: perhaps most critically, a lack of adequate funding at every level and fluctuating budgets, which complicates reliable and consistent access to systemic support services for schools. I participated in the CPS budget-modification brainstorms in 2020-2021 planning for modifications to Student-Based-Budgeting (SBB) expected for FY2022, as well as the adjustments due to the pandemic. While CPS projects budget stability in the FY2022 outlook, we still have to reckon with declines in enrollment as long as funding dollars are tied to students.
As a proud supporter of the LSCs 4 All Coalition, as well as the advocacy group, Raise Your Hand, I’ve made the effort to connect with others attending these workshops to build a network to stay engaged in the broader conversations taking place, so that I can better support our students and families at LaSalle and help others at their schools, too. I’m following and participating in the community discussion, to help educate, engage, and activate our community, as well as advocate on its behalf.
On the LSC, I've participated in and facilitated many discussions amongst our council members about how best to proactively protect our budget priorities as we seek to understand the evolving possibilities of COVID-19 impacts, as well as the ongoing changes to the CPS funding formula.
HOW COULD THAT IMPACT OUR SCHOOLS?
Modifications to the funding formula could impact our school's budget and impact how we allocate our resources. Drops in enrollment, as well as an influx of $1.8B could have a massive impact on school budgets. As such, it's critical that the Local School Council and our community at large stay informed, prepared, and ready to engage to sustainably protect our school's priorities as best we can.
ADVOCACY FOR ADEQUATE FUNDING
The much bigger picture here is that we all know that our schools are chronically, desperately, underfunded. In the recent series of budget workshops, CPS assessed that while state funding has improved since 2017 and is on an upward trajectory, CPS was still nearly $2B short of adequate funding before the pandemic, citing this information as the state’s own admission. There are ongoing advocacy actions to help bridge that funding gap with the $1.8B COVID-relief. We also know that students at the intersection of race and poverty have been most adversely impacted by COVID-19 and citywide LSCs and communities advocated to ensure that adequate funding would be equitably distributed throughout the district and our schools. Here is how the district has responded to our advocacy for FY2022.
UNPACKING OUR PRIORITIES: THE ROLE OF THE LSC
The LSC's primary roles beyond Principal hiring and evaluation is to support the school's Continuous Improvement Work Plan (CIWP) by approving it, monitoring and evaluating it, and ensure that when it approves the school's budget, resources are appropriately allocated and aligned to this plan.
For the LSC to effectively advocate for more equitable student outcomes, we need to listen to the teachers, staff and admin, as well as students and families, to understand how best to support those most impacted by this work. We need to empathize, and lead accordingly. We need to be thoughtful and humble about what we don't know, ask questions, avoid assumptions, assume best intent, and navigate building a more inclusive community where all stakeholders feel seen, heard and valued.
On the LaSalle LSC, we need to deepen our understanding of the complexity and context for equity-centric resource allocation, what it does, how it works, and why. We need to continue to mediate between differing opinions, think creatively, and communicate effectively to keep our community connected and ensure that the teachers and all of our students feel supported in this vital work.
Since I stepped up in July 2020 during the COVID-extended term to help lead the LSC and support LLA through the challenges of remote learning and our return to in-person learning, I've been actively engaging and listening to our community's concerns and will continue to do so, helping to ensure that all voices at LLA are heard. To this end, I've helped LaSalle develop a multi-platform, multi-format communications strategy to more equitably and effectively listen to parent and community voice and engage parents as partners during this unprecedented time.
Regardless of the modality of instruction -- in-person, simultaneous, hybrid, or fully remote -- we need to support the whole student by continuing, and in some cases furthering, our commitment to the following student interventions and accelerations, strategies and training to best prepare our students for life beyond LaSalle.
As part of my 2020 LSC candidacy outreach campaign, and ongoing throughout my term, I listened and assembled this list of priorities from teachers and parents in our community, which may be helpful for folks at LaSalle as well as other school communities to consider.
Rigorous curricular standards across core subjects and specialized subject areas vertically aligned for high school success
Equitable Single-Subject Acceleration, thoughtfully implemented to support high school success
Supporting differentiated instruction ensuring it is de-stigmatized by skill set vs. ability label, and thus supporting smaller class sizes
Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) to identify interventions needed for students, and properly implement them
Aligning behavioral outcomes with agility to adjust to implementation in K-4 and 5-8 as relevantly different for those grade levels and grade bands
Supporting Restorative Justice Practices for student discipline and behavioral outcomes
Restorative Justice Training (as needed) for all staff, teachers, and administration
Anti-Bias, Anti-Racist (ABAR) Training (as needed) to support whole student growth and curriculum development
Supporting Culturally Relevant Teaching (professional development, resources, as needed) as our collective understanding of best practices to foster inclusion and belonging evolves.
While our school has successfully been able to tackle many of these priorities, we also know that the pandemic impacts have delayed and disrupted measurable outcomes connected to them. To ensure all students at LaSalle have access to the educational opportunities they need to succeed, we will have to be thoughtful and well-informed about our priorities and the funding challenges that we expect CPS will face as we emerge from this pandemic together.
CONNECTING OUR COMMUNITY | BUILDING UNITY
Our connection as a community at LaSalle is not borne of convenience. Because we hail from all over the city, it must be more intentional. We choose to show up, to be there for one another, to engage, and commit to supporting our schools through gifts of our service because all see something special happening here and want our kids to be a part of it. And we stay because we believe that in our diversity, and our commitment to the study of world languages and cultures -- that our kids might discover something profound about themselves and the world they will be leading soon: perspective. The ability to empathize with others that are different from them, and to understand that they are part of a much bigger world than their neighborhood. This cultural connection we have to each other, is not something that I take for granted. I am so grateful to you all for this gift. And in listening to many of you share your ideas for how we can continue to grow here at LaSalle, I agree that we could do more to nurture our school culture towards greater inclusivity and in so doing, strengthen the bonds of our community. I’m here, willing, and want to help with that. What I want for the students of LaSalle is what I want for my children, and, ultimately, all children throughout CPS: safe schools, where our students and educators feel equitably supported, engaged in the learning process… excited, happy to be here, to discover, to be challenged, and to grow.