Every year, we host the Change for Good Luncheon, Healthy Schools Campaign’s (HSC) annual event to bring focus to our work to make schools healthier places for all children and highlight new initiatives. This year we focused on lifting up the voices and experiences of parents and community leaders and invited public officials to hear and respond to their recommendations. This year, an audience of nearly 200 parents, community members and leaders from our civic, business, health and education communities heard a panel of grassroots leaders speak about their work in school health services, physical education, green schoolyards, school food and accountability. We invited public officials to listen and respond to those priorities. This series of blogs lays out those priorities and responses and highlights our policy recommendations to the recently elected Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
We know that what gets measured gets done. That’s why accountability and transparency are core to our policy agenda in Chicago, in Illinois and nationally.
“It is more important than ever to ensure that cities, school districts, states and the federal government are meeting their obligations to educate and fully support all students,” said Rochelle Davis, HSC President + CEO at the Change for Good Luncheon. “It’s also important to be transparent about the disparities in resources that exist between schools.”
For Candace Moore, the city’s first ever Chief Equity Officer, thinking about equity means thinking about outcomes and process. “In outcomes, we want to see movement,” she said at the Change for Good Luncheon. “We want to see more people who have traditionally and historically been disadvantaged to get to our overall goals.”
In terms of process, this includes making smart, inclusive decisions in determining who has a seat at the decision-making table. It includes listening to grassroots leaders like parents and principals, which Moore was able to do at the Luncheon. “Thank you for the opportunity to listen,” she said. “I feel like one of the transitions in this new role is just how fast many conversations happen. I appreciate a space where I can sit and think comprehensively about the work and what’s going on in communities.”
In Chicago, we recommended that health and wellness be integrated in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) planning and accountability programs to make sure schools get the resources they need. We know from experience that when policies aren’t equitably funded and implemented, disparities persist.
We also recommended that the training for Local School Councils (LSCs), an elected group of parents and community members that manages some school operations, be improved to better prepare members to understand and support the district’s health and wellness policies and practices.
Making sure that parent voices are heard is also an important part of transparency and accountability. We will continue our work with CPS when we co-convene taskforces on the district’s wellness policy and physical education policy in the coming months.
We heard from Krish Mohip, the Deputy Operational Educational Officer at the Illinois State Board of Education, about the shift happening at ISBE and how the board envisions its responsibility. “We’re not just focused on the support and the guidelines and the policies in the state but also around performance management and ensuring every single child is getting a quality education,” he said. “When we’re finding that that’s not happening, we’re looking for ways to put systems of support in place so we can improve the educational outcomes for every child.”
At the state level, we recommended that chronic absenteeism remain part of the state’s accountability system and that schools receive the support and resources they need to address this issue. Illinois is one of 36 states plus D.C. to include chronic absenteeism rates as a measure of school quality on the state’s report card. Chronic absenteeism is a reliable proxy for how well a school supports student health and wellness.
We also recommended that Illinois develop guidance and tools to support school districts in addressing the health-related causes of chronic absenteeism. Students with unmanaged chronic health conditions (such as asthma or diabetes) are more likely to miss class because of the symptoms of their illness or because they are receiving medical treatment during the school day. Students can also be chronically absent because of health issues such as dental pain, vision problems or mental health and anxiety issues, and having adequate health support staff in schools can help ensure students don’t have to lose instructional time or leave school in order to receive services.
We are pleased that Mayor Lightfoot, in her inaugural address as well as in many of her other major addresses, has focused on themes of equity, neighborhood investment, education and accountability. And we have been very happy to hear Governor Pritzker prioritize health, children, equity and accountability as well. We look forward to working with both of them to increase accountability and transparency to ensure equity both in terms of process and outcomes for students across Chicago and Illinois.