Far South Side organizer appointed to Chicago school board

Mayor Lori Lightfoot picked Joyce Chapman, who founded the Pullman Community Development Corporation and is the chair of the Far South Side Community Action Council, to fill a seat that had been empty for nearly a year.

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Joyce Chapman

Joyce Chapman

Provided/Chicago Public Schools

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has appointed Far South Side community organizer Joyce Chapman to the Board of Education, filling a seat that has been vacant for almost a year.

The school board will operate at full capacity this month for the first time since former board member Amy Rome stepped down last July. Lightfoot faced criticism for leaving the seat open so long.

Chapman is a longtime activist and organizer around community and education issues. She founded the Pullman Community Development Corporation and is the chair of the Far South Side Community Action Council.

Lightfoot’s office said the mayor chose Chapman “because of her commitment and dedication to improving life outcomes and opportunities for our young people and communities.” The mayor is expected to have more seats to fill this summer after two members’ terms expire.

Chapman, a CPS alumna, called her appointment to the seven-member board “an immense honor” in a statement released by City Hall.

“As a board member, I will continue to use my experiences for the schools to have access to the resources needed for academic success,” she said.

Chapman couldn’t be reached for further comment Wednesday.

As a Far South Side organizer, Chapman has hosted summer peace rallies, food giveaways, back-to-school events and other youth events.

Joyce Chapman gives a speech during a march down South Michigan Ave, in Roseland, Chicago, Wednesday June 10, 2020.

Joyce Chapman gives a speech during a march down South Michigan Ave, in Roseland, Chicago, Wednesday June 10, 2020.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Chapman joined Lightfoot at a press conference last July to unveil a new indoor track at Pullman’s Gately Park that Chapman called “a long time coming for the Far South Side.”

A few months earlier, in January 2021, Chapman hosted a virtual discussion with about a dozen Chicago Public Schools parents and then-CEO Janice Jackson about the district’s plans for returning to in-person learning. Chapman facilitated those questions in the middle of CPS’ heated reopening negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union, when Jackson looked to provide optional in-person classes. About a quarter of students ended up going back that spring as parents and educators still had serious safety concerns before a vaccine was widely available.

“For the most part as I was talking to parents, they said that they are ready for their children to return to school,” Chapman said during the virtual discussion before directing a question at the parents: “But making that decision for your child to return back to school, it’s different for every family. It’s different for every situation. What made you come to that conclusion that in-person will best fit your child?”

Chapman has long been vocal in the city’s education landscape.

In 2010, she was one of 15 signatories on a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed that called for “urban education reform” through the introduction of “quality school options,” a calling card for supporters of the surging charter school movement at the time.

In the letter, the group argued Chicago charter schools outperform traditional public schools. And they highlighted a petition they created “calling for increased access to quality public school options, including charter and turnaround schools.”

“We are quietly outraged that 200,000 students in Chicago remain in underperforming public schools even though there are proven models working in many communities in our city,” they wrote.

Chicago has since reined in charter expansion. The controversial “turnaround” strategies have also been abandoned. CPS last year said it would phase out its relationship with the not-for-profit organization that was brought in to “transform” schools the district deemed were struggling with poor academic records by firing entire school staffs — everyone from principals and teachers to janitors.

Chapman has voiced her views on other issues affecting her community.

In an April interview with the Chicago Tribune about the Chicago Police Department’s failure to build trust, Chapman said new officers have to “acclimate themselves to the community.” She has tried to make that happen through events that bring cops and kids together.

“The superintendent must present that in his role engaging the community and hopefully it will filter amongst the rank and file and into districts,” she told the newspaper.

In the summer of 2020, Chapman organized a march in Roseland to call for unity and a revitalization of the Far South Side’s local businesses after some were damaged in that year’s racial justice protests. The crowd included activists, residents, politicians and police officers.

“We are going to put an action plan together,” Chapman said before giving her phone number to the marchers. “I want you all to call and text me about what you think our plan should be. Say what you have to say so we can strengthen our community. Your input is vital to the process of improving our quality of life.”

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