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July 13: Virtual school

The state’s first virtual public elementary school is preparing to open this fall with 600 students. The Chicago Virtual Charter School plans to serve students who want a less-structured, technology-oriented learning environment. However, the Chicago Teachers Union says such a school is illegal and argues that the state school code mandates “non-home-based” charter schools. Sharon Hayes, the president of Chicago Virtual, says the school conforms to the state statute because students will receive some instruction in the classroom by a state-certified teacher.

July 25: School ordinance

Aldermen pass an ordinance to crack down on students engaged in fighting within 1,000 feet of public, private and nursery schools. The ordinance originally would have levied fines as high as $1,000 or six-month jail terms on parents. Championed by Ald. Jim Balcer (llth) of Bridgeport, the revised ordinance gives parents a written warning after the first offense and fines after two or more offenses within a 12-month period. Some offenders may also receive 100 hours of community service as an alternative to jail. Balcer softened his original plan after complaints from several aldermen that it was too harsh. An attorney for the city says the ordinance can only apply to 17- and 18-year-olds. Under state law, younger students are considered minors and are subject to laws for juvenile offenders.

July 28: Education march

State Sen. James Meeks organizes a march to protest what he calls Mayor Daley’s failure to provide better education for the city’s children. Meeks points to a Consortium on Chicago School Research study showing that only six out of every 100 CPS high school students graduated from college and to another study correlating unqualified teachers with low student achievement. CEO Arne Duncan insists that CPS is working to recruit the best teachers, and says student achievement is rising.

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I find that all over the city, it’s hard to get people to participate in local school council meetings. What can be done to get parents more involved? How can we encourage elected LSC members to attend meetings more regularly?

Horghis Scott, Community Representative, Englewood Academy LSC

Valencia Rias of Designs for Change, who also serves as a community representative at the School of Entrepreneurship at the South Shore High campus, suggests inviting guest speakers to address topics that parents in your community care about. For example, one high school held an information session about an upcoming computer course for parents. An elementary school invited a teacher from a different grade level each month to talk about curriculum and how to help kids succeed. Parents of kids at the promotion grades (3rd, 6th and 8th) should prove the most captive audience, Rias says. “Everybody wants to know what they can do to help their child move to the next grade.”

Rias suggests other issues of potential interest to parents: fighting crime around the school, building renovations, how to get your child into a good high school or requirements for joining a high school’s athletic teams.

Serving refreshments or organizing a potluck, perhaps in cooperation with another parent organization in the school, can also help draw an audience.

Make sure to advertise the special meetings, Rias says. Distribute a schedule at your school’s open house each September, send monthly reminders home with kids and use your school’s automated phone system to spread the word.

E-mail your question to askcat@catalyst-chicago.org

or send it to Ask Catalyst, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 500, Chicago,

IL 60604.

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Since 2004, the subsidy the district provides to retired teachers to help pay their healthcare premiums has increased dramatically, contributing to the soaring cost of benefits, according to a report from the Civic Federation critiquing the Chicago Public Schools 2007 budget. In 2004, the subsidy covered 55% of the cost of premiums for a single individual; by 2006, the subsidy covered 70% of premium costs. Overall, total subsidies paid by the district have increased 104% since 1995, from $26 million to $53 million.

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