In the most organized candidate recruitment campaign since the first local school council elections 10 years ago, community organizations, business groups and churches have pitched in to help the School Board line up parent and community candidates and voters. On Feb. 28, a day before the registration deadline, the Chicago Public Schools gave candidates one more week to file, pushing the deadline to Mar. 7. At the time, only 2,713 parent and community candidates had filed to run for 4,512 seats. The LSC 2000 Campaign was seeking two candidates for every seat, or a total of 9,024 candidates—6,768 parents and 2,256 community members.
Each of the city’s 564 local school councils has six parents and two community members, who are elected by parents and community members; and two teachers, who are nominated by fellow teachers and, in effect, ratified by the School Board. High school councils have one student member. Principals also serve on the councils. Elections at elementary schools will be held April 5; at high schools, April 6.
Registration deadlines were extended for the two previous LSC elections.
The School Board and education and civic groups kicked off this year’s recruitment campaign in October with a breakfast meeting where Mayor Richard M. Daley called on business leaders to encourage employees to run for councils.
Meanwhile, the School Leadership Development Cooperative, an umbrella group for school and community organizations, was collecting $420,000 in grants from local foundations for the recruitment effort. It distributed $250,000 to a variety of non-profits that applied. Twenty-nine groups received $2,000 to $10,000, and eight received $250 to $1,000.
The other $170,000 went into a media campaign that included ads and mailings to current LSC members, encouraging them to run again.
The Co-op is coordinating the citywide effort to increase awareness, interest and participation in the LSC election. By its count, more than 70 neighborhood groups, businesses and other organizations have provided recruiters, trained recruiters or held recruitment meetings.
The Chicago Public Schools wrote, printed and distributed training materials to interested foundations, corporations, communities and potential candidates. It also has trained outreach workers and helped them get funds for their recruitment efforts. And it’s paying a stipend to an election coordinator at every school. The last weekend in February, it ran a phone bank to reach potential candidates.
Nearly 17,000 people ran in the first LSC elections in 1989. The number has been in the 7,000 to 8,000 range every election since.
Surrounded by the buildings and offices of the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, an offshoot of Centers for New Horizons, is recruitment central for eight schools in the Douglas community: Donahue, Doolittle East, Doolittle West, Douglass, Mayo, Phillips High, Raymond and Wells Prep. Tim Goosby is leading the effort.
“Mayo and Wells have very motivated parents,” Goosby reports in mid-February, “and Wells Prep’s response has been excellent, partly due to the school’s history—parents are fighting for stability. Other schools have been a tough nut to crack. I [miscalculated] how it would go.”
With many nearby buildings of the Chicago Housing Authority being torn down, “A lot of people don’t know what they’re going to be doing, and they have their minds on other things,” he explains, adding, “We understand that a lot of people in our communities are in flux.”
The Hope Center, which received a $9,000 grant from the Co-op, has relied on its own door-to-door recruiting. It has not had much interaction with schools or the School Board.
Hope Center recruiters were required to attend workshops on both school reform—e.g. the responsibilities of LSC members and election procedures—and community organizing—e.g., developing talking points to engage residents and door-to-door canvassing.
Recruiters also were required to develop work plans aimed at four overall goals: Finding a minimum of two candidates for every seat, setting up two large community meetings with speakers, arranging four smaller meetings to help get out the vote and developing a list of 150 parents who are willing to volunteer in schools.
“I try to work with them [recruiters] and let them know that what we expect them to do is follow the procedure,” says Goosby. “If you don’t get the results, then we’re not going to beat you down. But if you follow the procedure, then we can still work together, and we can make some good things happen.”
Sokoni Karanja, president of Centers for New Horizons, also in the Douglas neighborhood, says that the best LSC recruitment effort was the first one, in 1989, when there were 17,000 candidates. “We had more resources,” he says. “This year, we have more resources than we’ve had in a long time. We became involved earlier, as well. It’s more organized because of the Co-op.”
“I think it’s the board’s responsibility to promote this, put all the PR efforts they have at their capacity towards this,” he adds. “This election should be top priority.”
Farther south, in the Roseland community, Julia Spann recruits LSC candidates from the congregation of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago. With the church’s 10,000 congregants living throughout the city and metropolitan area, her work constitutes a citywide effort.
“They’re from all over, from Schaumburg to Palos, various classes, big-time people and small-time people, people from every walk of life,” Spann laughs. Still, councils at nearby elementary schools such as Gompers and Gillespie and nearby high schools such as Fenger and Corliss stand to benefit.
Spann runs her operation like a precinct captain. “I am very action-oriented,” she says.
She encourages church members to consider running at the schools they or their relatives attended and distributes school maps so they can see which schools are in their neighborhoods. In distributing registration forms, she tries to get people to fill them out on the spot. For some, that process “can be overwhelming,” says Spann. “I give them direction, because sometimes it’s harder for them to do by themselves. People are scared, they think it’s a big-wig job. I tell them ‘It’s OK, it’s just plain old you and me.'”
The church, headed by Rev. James T. Meeks, got involved in the recruitment effort through Laura LeBreton, a consultant working with the Leadership Co-op. LeBreton hired Spann to assist her. Salem Baptist did not receive funding from the Leadership Co-op. However, the School Board provided training and materials.
The recruitment drive is more targeted and personal this time than it has been in previous LSC election years, says Spann. Technology has helped. “More people are on e-mail now, and this opens up the door for greater communication,” she notes.
Her wish list includes greater access to copying machines and more workers for presentations.
By mid-February, more than 100 Salem Baptist members had expressed an interest in running for council seats. “With Salem Baptist Church of Chicago being such an action-oriented church that takes the mission to the streets—outside the comfort of the four walls—it is not surprising that members have been very responsive,” says Spann.
Downtown, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce is making a “two-pronged effort,” says Peggy Luce, the chamber’s education and training manager and its liaison with the Leadership Co-op. Luce keeps the organization’s 2,600 member companies apprised of deadlines and supplies a corporate packet put together by the Co-op. The packet includes templates for making campaign posters and handouts, as well as a list of activities and suggestions for running a campaign.
She also contacts neighborhood chambers of commerce and neighborhood member companies. Four or five neighborhood chambers requested the corporate packet and invited speakers to talk with employees.
The corporate packet distinguishes this year’s recruitment campaign from those of the past, says Luce. “In the past, we did superficial efforts like flashing news bulletins within our company,” she says.