Julian High School in Washington Heights is the only Chicago public school where no parents signed up to run for the local school council.
But then Julian hasn’t had any parents on its council for about the last year. They resigned for a variety of reasons. Meanwhile, the troubled school saw the School Board remove Principal Karen Wilson last spring and install Reginald Brown, a once-retired administrator, as interim principal.
Brown did not recruit candidates for this month’s election. “It’s not my job,” he shrugs.
Brown had clashed with the council at the previous school where he was sent to pinch hit, Near North Career Magnet. That school, which is being closed to make way for redevelopment in the Cabrini-Green area, has only one parent running.
Brown says that boosting achievement and restoring order are his top priorities at Julian. Parents regularly participate in school sporting and other extracurricular activities, he says, adding that he doesn’t know why they were not interested in running.
Andy Wade, executive director of the Chicago School Leadership Development Cooperative, says while principals, parents, teachers and community people all must work together to attract LSC candidates, the principal must have good relationships with each constituency to make the council work. “The role of the principal is crucial to LSC elections,” he stresses.
Unlike many other public schools, Julian did not have organized recruiting support from a community or civic group, Wade says. A Roseland organization, Developing Communities Project, offered some informal help to publicize the elections around Julian. While the group recruited 100 candidates for 11 area schools, its efforts on Julian’s behalf were unsuccessful, says organizer Joe Burnett. “We have to do something different to get those high school parents,” he says.
Julian’s in-house LSC coordinator, Delores Brooks, persuaded several parents to run, but not until after the March 7 registration deadline. As a learning disabilities teacher with a full load of classes, Brooks had little time for recruiting. “No one came forth until they were called individually,” Brooks says. “I learned something.”
Julian music teacher and LSC member Ramon Key says the resignations of the parent members took the council by surprise. “It all hit us fast,” he says. Some parents could no longer serve because their children had transferred out of the school. Others started new jobs and no longer had time to serve. One had to resign after landing a job with the board. Board employees and contractors cannot serve as parent or community representatives.
At first, Key says, the council tried to fill the vacancies as they came up. Key said one parent was replaced by another, but months passed, and no one else signed on. By the fall, the council had trouble getting a quorum.
One community resident fears the lack of parental interest will lead to a loss of local control at Julian. “There’s a lot of apathy out there, I hate to say it,” says Eben Credit, a 1979 Julian alumnus who is running as a community representative. “What you’re going to have—if the apathy continues—is [the Board] saying, ‘If they can’t govern, we’re going to govern.'”
Credit was first elected to the post in 1996 and served a two-year term. He is one of two community candidates running this year. Credit says he pitched in to recruit parent candidates for the council but was unable to get any commitments. “Parents think it’s too time consuming, or don’t understand what’s involved,” Credit says.
The father of a Julian 10th grader, who did not give his name, agrees with Credit. Publicity was not lacking at Julian, he says. Flyers, newsletters and radio announcements put the word out that parents were needed to run in the upcoming LSC elections. “If parents say they didn’t know, it’s because they didn’t want to know,” he says.
“It’s a sign that troubles us,” says James Deanes, who is the chief liaison between CPS and the councils as director of the Office of School and Community Relations. While central office focused its efforts on stabilizing the school after last year’s principal shake-up, Julian’s failing council was left to struggle on its own, Deanes says. He speculates parents who dropped off the council may have “decided there was too much turmoil to stay on.”
Once stability is restored and test scores improve, parents will likely get more involved, Deanes speculates. In the meantime, interim principal Brown and the probation manager will continue to make budget and staff decisions.
Key and Annitria Barnett, special resource teacher, are running for re-election to fill the council’s two teacher seats.
School district officials say a special election will be held within six months to bring parents on board Julian’s council.
Mario Ortiz is a Chicago area writer.