The Ultimate Empowerment Program for Parents: Immigrant Parents in Chicago Set a Precedent for Other Districts with At-Risk Children and Hesitant Administrators

By McLester, Susan | District Administration, November-December 2011 | Go to article overview

The Ultimate Empowerment Program for Parents: Immigrant Parents in Chicago Set a Precedent for Other Districts with At-Risk Children and Hesitant Administrators


McLester, Susan, District Administration


PROLIFERATING ACROSS the country at what seems lightning speed is a law that grants parents an unprecedented degree of power to intervene in the fate of underperforming schools. First adopted in California in January 2010 and spurred by the Parent Revolution group out of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), what's become known as the "parent trigger" law says that when a majority of parents with children in schools designated "failing" under No Child Left Behind demand administrators be replaced or that the school reopen as a charter, the district must comply.

Since then, iterations of the parent trigger law have passed in Connecticut, Mississippi and Texas and are now being considered by more than 20 other states, according to published reports. Termed a controversial, even radical, policy in published articles, the concept and practice of empowering parents with a strong voice in their children's education is nothing new for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), a Chicago organization that, since 1997, has conducted a successful in-depth, parent-school collaboration program in nine schools on the northwest side of the city that represent about 10,000 students, or 2.5 percent of Chicago Public Schools' (CPS) total enrollment.

According to Soo Hong, assistant professor of education at Wellesley College and author of A Cord of Three Strands about the LSNA program, what sets apart LSNA from the budding parent trigger law movement and similar initiatives across the country is the ultimate and longstanding state of cooperation among resident parents, schools, politicians and local services that the program has achieved in the face of severely challenging circumstances. Logan Square is among the most at-risk communities nationwide. It is a high-minority, high-poverty, urban community with a 95 percent population of non-English-speaking Latino immigrants. Through a range of programs, including classroom parent mentoring and home literacy visits by parent-teacher teams, the association trains immigrant parents to become mentors, assist teachers in their children's schools, learn English, earn General Education Development degrees, and become active in the community.

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When Chicago's Office of New Americans was initiated last July for the stated purpose of making Chicago "the most immigrant-friendly city in the world," Mayor Rahm Emanuel held up LSNA as a model of parent engagement that other schools in the district should emulate.

Alberto Carvalho, president of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, says the Logan Square Association is the ultimate example of immigrant parents taking control and finding success for their children. "The ultimate goal is to empower parents, to get them involved as active participants in their children's education," says Carvalho, also superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. "Having come to America as an immigrant myself, I am thrilled to know that school districts like Chicago are welcoming immigrant parents--in their home languages, if needed--and encouraging them to take part in the future of their families."

LSNA's Beginnings

The Logan Square Neighborhood Association was founded in the early 1960s by a group of local businesspeople, homeowners and church members concerned about the flight of businesses and residents in the wake of increasing deindustrialization in the neighborhood. When Nancy Aardema joined LSNA as executive director in the mid-1980s, she focused on integrating into the association the more recent immigrants from Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba who had replaced the European immigrants who previously had dominated the area. But it wasn't until 1988, when Illinois passed legislation conferring administrative powers on local school councils (LSCs) to determine major decisions, such as principal contract renewals and approval of school improvement plans and discretionary funds, that LSNA first became involved with schools. …

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