On April 7, the people of Chicago will be asked to make a choice about who they want to be their next mayor. In doing so, I want them to be aware of my choice as a parent of two public high school students.
Both of my children attended a local public charter elementary school in our Roseland community. When it came time to apply to high school, I had safety concerns with our neighborhood option.
My son was lucky enough to be admitted to the Noble Street Gary Comer College Prep, where he is now a junior. He thrives in the highly structured environment the school provides, and I am confident that he will go on to college.
My daughter, who is more of a free spirit and also has some mild learning issues, attends the Ralph Ellison Campus of the Chicago International Charter School, and she is doing great. Her teachers email regularly and they are always responsive when I call.
A parent’s job is to find the right school for each child. With its wide range of offerings, from magnet and charter to neighborhood and theme-related schools, the Chicago Public Schools offers many good options. However, not all parents are as lucky as I was.
Today, there are thousands of families on waiting lists for better schools and thousands more trapped in schools they don’t want. Many other families have moved out of Chicago because they were unhappy with the quality of education offered in city schools.
Chicago needs more educational options. They don’t all have to be charters, but they do need to meet the needs of our increasingly diverse population. They need to create a ladder to the middle class and prepare our youth both for college and work.
College may not be for everyone, but our standards should be high enough so that everyone has the choice.
Like most families in my community, I cannot afford private schools for our children but we still need and deserve choices. And the question facing parents is whether the next mayor will continue to provide those choices or will instead insist that we all go to our neighborhood schools, even if they are not the right fit for our children.
Like a lot of parents in Chicago, I greatly value public school teachers. They work very hard and give their hearts and souls to our children. They deserve our deepest respect, our support and our love.
But I have often heard teacher union leaders and others attacking charter schools for false reasons, claiming they are in it to make a profit or they are in it to break unions. None of the teachers who have taught my children are like that, nor are the administrators who run our schools.
Instead, they are passionate, devoted professionals who take their responsibilities very seriously. They deserve the same respect and appreciation as all educators.
And let’s also remember that charters started in Chicago because thousands of parents like me wanted a safe environment and better educational options than traditional public schools. Today, less than one in 10 low-income kids earns a four-year college degree, and that’s most of the kids in Chicago. Many charters, on the other hand, have higher graduation and college enrollment rates.
I don’t blame the teachers or the unions for the quality of our schools. I don’t blame the school board or the mayor. I’m not blaming anyone. But our schools need to get better.
In the meantime, I’m doing everything in my power to make sure my kids go to college and get a good job so they can find success, raise a family and live a decent life. Most parents want the same thing for their kids, whether they go to public charter schools or traditional public schools.
So let’s make sure that this election is not a step backward for Chicago. Let’s make sure that this election gives more young people more educational options. No matter what choice people make on April 7, please don’t take away mine.
Lucy Reese is a board member of Charter Parents United (CPU) and a board member of the Parent Advisory Council (PAC) at Gary Comer College Prep.