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Be The Change Charter School Awaits OK to Open

By Casey Cora | October 16, 2013 8:20am
 The Be the Change prospective charter school design team and governing board includes members with experience in a broad range of fields, from education to real estate.
The Be the Change prospective charter school design team and governing board includes members with experience in a broad range of fields, from education to real estate.
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Facebook/Be the Change

CHICAGO — The teacher-led group hoping to bring a new charter school to the South Side will soon go before a CPS committee to state its case for opening.

Already, representatives from Be the Change Charter School have submitted their proposal to CPS for their K-8 school, which would have a focus on an educational method called interdisciplinary learning.

This week, the group will be interviewed by the district’s Office of New Schools, and if the district leaders like what they hear, Be the Change could open as soon as 2014.

After initially eyeing Bridgeport, the group's curriculum design team and governing board have since expanded their search to include locations in Armour Square, McKinley Park and Pilsen.

That their bid is taking place against the backdrop of an aggressive backlash against charter schools isn’t lost on the prospective school's creators.

“I definitely hear those concerns. I hear the anger and empathize with the anger. But at the same time we’ve designed the school where we’re hoping we can be partners [with neighborhood schools],” said Eliza Bryant, a former teacher at Clara Barton Elementary School in Auburn Gresham and graduate of the University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program. “Our goal is not to be adversary.”

Still, local public education activists say they would have serious concerns about the school’s entrance into the neighborhood, where schools with declining enrollment are expected to take big budget hits next year when the district’s per-pupil budget mandate fully kicks in.

“Let’s face it, the more schools there are, the smaller the [funding] pie gets,” said Jennie Biggs, a Bridgeport parent and activist with the grassroots parent group Illinois Raise Your Hand.

Biggs said the prospective school’s philosophy — founded on the principles of “peace, voice and action” — “screams" of what charter schools set out to be.

“But it's not what charter schools are right now ... and it’s too bad that these networks have kind of hijacked this charter school idea,” she said.

But Bryant and the other teachers on the design team have said the school won’t ever be part of a network. They’ve drawn up their independent charter to be a model for interdisciplinary learning, a method that connects separate disciplines and allows students to see themes and issues from multiple viewpoints.

On its website, the group says “students will explore literacy, math, science, social studies and the arts through three main content-driven themes throughout the year.”

Bryant said the idea is catching on — the group has hosted community information sessions, where parents have told them they’re looking for alternatives to neighborhood schools. More community outreach sessions are planned.

“We do hear a lot from younger families that their kids are 2 or 3 years old, and they are trying to think ahead about where to send their kids,” Bryant said.

Once the group's interviews and proposal submissions wrap up, the proposals will be batted around by the newly created Neighborhood Advisory Councils made up of parents, community leaders and, potentially, aldermen and state representatives. 

The councils are expected to make their recommendations about the prospective schools to the Chicago Board of Education, which is scheduled to vote on the new charter bids in January.

Be the Change Charter School is hosting its second silent auction, called "Planting the Seeds of Change," on Nov. 8.; More information on the fundraiser is available here.