Lisa Kulisek Credit: Photo by Kristi Sanford

We all know the statistics. 

By the age of 25, just 6% of students who enter CPS high schools as freshmen will have a bachelors’ degree.  For African-American and Latino students, that number drops to just 3% who will hold a four-year degree.  This is a systemic problem that starts at birth, but is exacerbated by inequities in a school system. There is a 28-point gap between the percentage of Caucasian and African-American students who meet and exceed reading standards in 3rd grade. In 11th grade, the gap is 40 points.

As parents and citizens we will not stand by and let generations of children become a statistic. That is why we have become parent leaders of Stand for Children.

Stand for Children’s mission as an organization is to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, graduate from high school prepared for, and with access to, a college education.

We believe ALL children deserve an equal opportunity to succeed in life. Public education is the key that unlocks the door to success. Far too many children, through no fault of their own, aren’t getting the education they need to make it in life. We are passionately committed to righting this wrong.

What does this mean for us on the ground in Chicago? 

It means that 150+ public school parents (and quickly growing) are currently enrolled or have graduated from Stand University for Parents (Stand UP) in the past six months.  Stand UP is a 10-week course that is a research-based, family engagement curriculum for parents of elementary school children focused on actionable steps parents can take immediately to get involved in their children’s academics and to ensure their children are on track for college. 

It means that hundreds of public school parents are learning how to be advocates for change through ‘study circles’ and trainings to understand how CPS operates, how schools are funded, how they can advocate for their children and communities.

It means we have a team in Springfield that is fighting for equitable funding for our classrooms, focused on our most at-risk students, and for policies focused on the highest leverage strategies available to stop this negative trend of statistics. 

It means that we challenge a system that has been failing our children for too long, regardless of how challenging those conversations can be. 

We view CPS as a three legged stool: the administration, the teachers, and the parents.  You cannot have one without the other.  You need all three to be engaged, informed, and bought in for true change to occur.  Unfortunately, we live in a city where all three sides are in conflict with each other and our children are caught in the middle. 

Stand for Children is unique in Chicago. We are one of the few parent organizations with representation from the North, West and South Side, with all races, ethnicities, and socio-economic levels included.  We work with parents in traditional public schools, public charter schools, turnaround schools, magnets, and selective enrollment schools. Bottom line, we believe in quality public schools and parent involvement.  Simple as that. 

For those in the education community who would belittle parent involvement from any sector of CPS,  or deem some public schools ‘real’ versus ‘fake,’ we wonder how our district will ever move forward together. 

One thing is clear.  We all want what’s best for our kids and our kids are better for it when we come together and communicate respectfully. These are complex problems and we may have different views on how to solve them. That’s okay. That enriches the debate. But when we attack each other instead of focusing on our shared goals, we all lose. 

(Editor’s note: In recent weeks, Catalyst Chicago has published several op-eds from parents or parent groups. This op-ed from Stand for Children is the latest. Previous op-eds were from Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand, Rebeca Nieves-Huffman of Democrats for Education Reform and Melissa Lindberg.)

Lisa Kulisek is a parent at Smyth Elementary.

Cheyney Wortham is a parent at Bradwell School of Excellence and a recent Stand UP graduate.

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