Friday, September 29, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 9/30/17
Featured image: The logo of the WeCan New School Initiative. Below, Allison Jack, with the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. | INCS
One woman from River Forest wants to start an elementary charter school somewhere in the western suburbs that would recruit students who attend public schools in Maywood-Melrose Park-Broadview School District 89, Bellwood School District 88, River Forest School District 90, Forest Park District 91 and Lindop School District 92 and Oak Park School District 97, among others.
While the proposal has drawn considerable backlash among Oak Park residents, the reaction has been relatively muted among residents further west. Most community leaders in places like Bellwood, Broadview, Maywood and Melrose Park who were interviewed about the proposal said that they didn’t know much about it.
As the director of charter growth and support for the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, Allison Jack gets paid to help start charters — a fact that many of her critics say makes her efforts less than genuine.
“It’s clear as a bell that her job is to grow charter schools — that’s her interest,” said Steve Krasinsky, an Oak Park resident who is one of the founding council members of a group called Oak Park Call to Action, a progressive activist organization that sprouted in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s election last November.
Jack, however, countered that she’s just getting paid for what she’d do for free. She believes a charter could succeed in eliminating the stubborn racial equity gap between black and white students that has persisted in Oak Park for generations.
“This came out of looking at different parents’ experiences that the needs of all kids aren’t being met,” she said in an interview on Monday.
Jack has two children in public schools but said she would send them to the charter school she’s working to establish through a group called the Western Educational Community Action Network (WeCan).
According to its website, WeCan is apparently designed to be the vehicle for driving up grassroots support for the idea of a charter school somewhere in Forest Park, River Forest, Maywood, Melrose Park, Broadview, Bellwood, Berwyn and Oak Park.
The school would “have a racially conscious/culturally proficient faculty and leadership team to provide our students with a robust and culturally relevant curriculum that includes restorative practice/restorative justice, social-emotional learning [and] project-based learning,” among other features listed on WeCan’s website. Jack said her goal is to open the school in the fall of 2019.
Erin Fountain, a WeCan member and Oak Park mother of four African American sons, ranging from adults to middle-school students, said she was attracted to Jack’s charter model based on her frustrations putting her children through Oak Park public schools.
“I’ve experienced it at all levels,” Fountain said, referencing what she described as the segregated nature of Oak Park’s public school system. “I’ve had frustrations with the school system from the very beginning.”
My Tang, the mother of a 3-year-old who lives in Forest Park, said she would “absolutely consider sending my kid to this charter.” Tang said she’s attracted to the project-based learning concept that Jack has been proposing but stipulated she isn’t against public schools.
“I’m a product of traditional public schools,” Tang said. “I’m not against public schools whatever. It’s just that all kids learn differently.”
Jack said she’s currently in the phase of gauging community support for the school and has been holding informational meetings and “family meet-ups” in area suburbs over the last few months. So far, she said, no defined location has been identified for the charter.
She’s looking to get parents who currently send their kids to public school to basically commit to sending their children to the proposed charter, which would select students based on a lottery system. The per-pupil funding that would have gone to the public school district would follow those students to the new charter.
Jack, however, would first have to get approval from local school districts in order to receive that per-pupil funding. If a school district votes against allowing part of its budget to go the charter, Jack could appeal the decision to the Illinois State Charter School Commission. The commission rarely goes against the decision of the local school district.
Earlier this year, the commission voted to deny the appeal of Mastery Academy Charter School — a proposal spearheaded by a District 89 school psychologist that sought millions in public funding to operate a charter in Maywood. The D89 school board had denied the proposal months before.
According to documents related to that decision, the commission “may reverse a local school board’s decision to deny a proposal to establish a new charter when the commission finds that the proposal (i) complies with the Charter Schools Law and (ii) is in the best interests of the students the charter school is designed to serve.”
The law requires that charter proposals “demonstrate a high level of local pupil, parental, community, business, and school personnel support,” that it set levels of student achievement which are “rigorous” and “feasible,” and that it’s “designed to enroll and serve a substantial proportion of at-risk children.”
When asked if D89 was aware of this most recent charter proposal, a spokesperson said that the district had only recently learned about it and would be monitoring its progress.
Barbara Cole, the well-known founder of Maywood Youth Mentoring, said that she had seen a flyer promoting a WeCan informational meeting and has been intending to attend one. So far, she said, she doesn’t know much about the proposal, either.
Cole, however, said that she would support any school that features a curriculum that teaches students in black and brown school districts about their own cultures.
If there is an emphasis on getting children to improve their self worth, confidence and self-esteem,” Cole said, “if a charter school can be setup for that purpose, then I’d be all for it.”
But until she learns more about the proposal, Cole said, she’s reluctant to draw any conclusions about it.
“I would like to know more information about who is behind this project before I say I’m for or against it,” she said. “I’m not against charter schools. I’m for any school that works. You can look at test scores and see the need for improved educational results. Will a charter school achieve that? I don’t know. It depends on who’s running it.” VFP
For more local news, ‘Like’ VFP on Facebook