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CPS looks to re-engage students this summer with search on for next CEO

The school district has begun efforts to reconnect with thousands of students who had spotty attendance during remote learning.

People sit outside Nicholas Senn High School in the Edgewater neighborhood, Friday afternoon, April 23, 2021.
People sit outside Nicholas Senn High School in the Edgewater neighborhood, Friday afternoon, April 23, 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

With Chicago Public Schools wrapping up an unprecedented, largely virtual school year earlier this week, district officials are shifting their focus to the fall, particularly to reconnect with families who might not have been well-served by remote learning.

The school system has spent the past few weeks identifying students who need to be re-engaged and enrolling them in summer programming, while connecting with families to better understand the root causes of their disengagement, Michael Deuser, CPS’ chief of college and career success, said at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting.

Students will be prioritized for the district’s “relentless re-engagement interventions” based on several factors, including their attendance and engagement history, grades, housing status, discipline record and community and COVID-19 trauma.

“Summer is a hugely important opportunity to re-engage students in terms of their academic needs as well as their social emotional needs so that our return to school next fall is as successful as possible and so that as many students as possible are coming back to us ready to engage in school and reconnect with their school communities,” Deuser said.

Along with citywide back-to-school marketing campaigns, a little over 18,000 students have been identified as facing the biggest challenges getting to schools, Deuser said. CPS will partner with community organizations for volunteer and staff home visits and intensive summer programming. Another 84,500 students have intermediate challenges and will see targeted supports such as early intervention to avoid chronic absences, home phone calls and community canvassing.

Programs will include social gatherings, art enrichment, health and wellness events and mental health initiatives. Summer academic programs start in July and will be open for 95,000 students, while jobs and internships are available through the district and city. Families should reach out to their principals for information.

Officials plan to reassess in the fall to see which students reconnected and how strong their attendance is.

The district plans to start meeting with the Chicago Teachers Union this week to coordinate efforts for the fall and establish protocols as CPS plans to bring almost all its students back to classrooms for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Students with medical conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 will be eligible for a centralized virtual academy, with applications due by July 23 at cps.edu/virtualacademy and sign-off from a physician required.

CEO search

The timeline to hire CPS’ new CEO has been extended by a week, with a selection expected around early August.

Debra Hill, a former suburban schools superintendent and now the managing director of CPS search firm BWP & Associates, said she feels “very confident” there are several qualified educators in the group of 25 candidates who have already applied. Hill said 25 was “a really good number” given how few people around the country have the required experience to lead the nation’s third-largest district.

In a survey of 4,500 students, parents and teachers, respondents generally said they’d like to see the job filled by an educator who has served various levels in the profession, and that a Chicago connection and previous superintendent experience are preferred but not essential. The most common answers for the district’s top challenges were the allocation of resources and engaging parents, while CPS’ strengths were excellent teachers and staff and supportive parents.

BWP plans to interview a select number of candidates before narrowing down the list to four to six names. Another round of interviews will filter the search down to two or three applicants, who are expected to be interviewed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Board of Education President Miguel del Valle in mid-July.