BELMONT CRAGIN — Mayor Rahm Emanuel is turning to Chicagoans to figure out how the city should support its children.
In the first of three roundtable discussions Emanuel is holding this month ahead of announcing the city's 2014 budget plans on Oct. 23, the mayor told panelists and an audience of about a dozen that he wanted to find an "efficient" way to fulfill his main educational goal of getting all public school children into college.
The panelists — a mix of aldermen, local parents and representatives of area nonprofits — largely praised the mayor for recent changes he instituted, including full-day kindergarten and a longer school day throughout Chicago Public Schools
"The goal was to make sure that the children have the longer school day so that they could get to the goal" of attending college, the mayor told panelists.
But they also weren't shy in sharing their priorities at the Thursday afternoon event held at Mary Lyon Elementary School in Belmont Cragin.
"The programs we have are wonderful, but we need to look at expanding and tailoring them to our schools' needs," Lyon LSC President Susan Rosenthal-Matthews said after the event. "I think he heard us. You could tell by the way he was repeating our suggestions."
Among the changes that panelists broached to the mayor was a bigger investment in extracurricular programming and enrichment opportunities for parents.
Brian Brady, executive director of the Mikva Challenge, said students involved with his organization feel like "school has become at times a test-prep game.
"They want a chance to be fully human in their schools," Brady said to Emanuel.
Two more similar events are expected to take place later this month, though the dates and venues have yet to be determined, a CPS spokeswoman said.
Thursday's event did not have a question-and-answer session.
The discussions comes after the school district slashed $68 million from classrooms for the current school year, following the historic closings of 50 schools.
The mayor noted that he would look at youth-oriented programs with the Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Library in the upcoming budget.
Bill Curry, a parent at Westinghouse College Prep, said he appreciated the mayor listening to the panel, but also recognized not everyone's priorities can be considered.
"I understand there's a great competition for resources," Curry said after the discussion.