Letter to Barbara Byrd-Bennett

We would like to introduce our group, Raise Your Hand, to you today. We are a coalition of parents across the district who have been advocating for better funding, programs and a stronger parent and community voice in policy making at CPS since 2010. Our group formed to tackle the never-ending issue of state and local cuts to the education budget.

These are definitely challenging times at CPS and it is our hope that you can bring your expertise and knowledge to Chicago to transform our district’s culture and create opportunities for CPS, schools and communities to work together to build the kind of school district all children and stakeholders can be proud of. We hope that you take the time to do an inventory of our district to see that many of the policies impacting our children have not worked. For years, our students have received less arts, PE, language, supports such as social workers, and have experienced larger class sizes and an overload of standardized tests that work to chip away at constructive teaching and learning time. We are also concerned that the culture at CPS has been punitive and demoralizing to many of our children, their schools and their communities.

Our district must be able to come up with a much better way to motivate students to learn and want to be in school than labeling their buildings “failing,” on “probation,” stamped with color codes and demeaning levels of 1,2,3. We are absolutely certain that there is a better way to inspire children than this

As you know, we have had a revolving door of leadership at CPS with new people coming in every year with new initiatives. We urge you to take the time to study the district and our city and learn about the safety issues that come with closing schools and shuffling children around to new places. In a city that has the highest reported gang numbers in the nation, these actions should never ever be taken lightly and carried out without the most careful examination and consultation of all community stakeholders. We also hope that you understand the need to let communities be part of decision making around charter schools. We do not believe the rapid expansion of charter schools that the city is proposing is the answer to improving public education for all children in Chicago. These decisions should be made carefully and with much community input.

Soon we will be releasing a series of reports called "Apples to Apples" with the help of parent Jeanne Marie Olson, comparing public school equity. One report shows 275 schools -- more than half of all elementary schools -- have at least one class size over the recommended limits. This is but one example of the many issues facing our schools.

We hope to discuss these issues with you sometime in the near future. We know you have a challenging job ahead and we wish you the best of luck.


Wendy Katten

Director, Raise Your Hand