Girl behind screen raises hand

Raise Your Hand Calls on Board of Education to Let Go of ‘Normal’ and Innovate For Chicago Kids

Editor’s Note: This morning, during the Chicago Board of Education’s monthly meeting, Raise Your Hand board member and Chicago Unheard contributor Cassandra Kaczocha will speak on the need to innovate and improve remote learning. While her public comments at the board meeting are limited to two minutes, we are pleased to publish her full message here.

My name is Cassandra Kaczocha. I am a caregiver for three elementary schoolers at Daniel Boone Elementary in West Ridge. In my neighborhood and across the city, families are struggling. So, too, are the community-based organizations trying to help families. These are not normal times.

We want to see you deliver on your promises that all families would have access to devices and Internet. After nearly two quarters of remote learning, I’m working with my community to find funds to help my West Ridge neighbors who still lack working devices and Internet.

When I am not supporting remote learning and trying to work a full-time job, I am a board member with Illinois Raise Your Hand for Public Education. Since August, we have held two forums at times scheduled for families’ convenience, unlike this board meeting.

Caregivers Are Calling on You to Listen

We invited all of you to our most recent event, but since none of you joined us, I am here to share some of the feedback we received from more than 150 people who joined our call. These caregivers were excited to have someone, anyone, hear their triumphs and struggles with remote learning. They were just as eager to share their thoughts on the plans for hybrid learning.

Here’s the gist of what we heard.  Most importantly, we want you to innovate. We want to see you, our unelected leaders, let go of the tiring narratives that say all we need are revisions to what we have always done.

Chicago needs more learning hubs. We need them supported by people who can assist with academic struggles, not security guards. In normal times, hundreds of community-based organizations assist children with homework before and after school. Why aren’t we partnering with them to provide high-quality, low-cost and free learning hubs to children in greatest need? 

Let’s Innovate on When and How We Teach

Families told us they want teachers to deliver quality differentiated instruction, including differentiated content, online. They want schedules that acknowledge kids need small group and one-on-one time now more than ever. There is little time in the current schedule to ensure that kids who need additional supports and kids who need additional challenges get what they need. 

Many families, particularly those with kindergartners and diverse learners, want schedules that follow appropriate screen time guidelines.  They want alternate instructional delivery for kids who ways other than online to access the curriculum. The parents we heard from want mandated screen breaks, and maybe even a half or full day off midweek for kids to rest their eyes and work independently, while teachers have time to innovate. 

Many families want you to try developing coordinated schedules across schools, especially a uniform lunchtime. A common lunch break across the district would aid social time within families and neighborhoods, help students who are assisting younger students and create engagement opportunities at community-based learning hubs.  

Caregivers noted that CPS missed opportunities to host small group enrichment activities outdoors, including social-emotional time. If we innovate and plan now for those activities in the spring, we don’t have to miss that opportunity again. 

Parents Want Partnership With CPS

We are struggling. Yet we know that we will get through this with community and innovation. We’re asking you to come into our communities to imagine and innovate with us. CPS could be helping families form small learning and childcare cooperative pods to lighten the load, as other districts have done.

We don’t want more canned response surveys, we want partnership in re-engineering our educational system. 

Study after study tells us that remote learning isn’t working. Study after study tells us in-person learning wasn’t working for many of our communities before Covid. These are not normal times. Let’s not just try to replicate an inequitable “normal.” Instead, let’s respond to them with creativity and innovation.

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash.

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Cassandra Kaczocha

Cassandra Kaczocha is the mom of two CPS middle graders and a public education advocate. She is passionate about racial equity and ensuring that all kids get high-quality education through our public schools.