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Founder Of CPS Advocacy Group Quits — So Her Son Can Go To Evanston H.S.

 Wendy Katten, founder of parent advocacy group  Raise Your Hand, is leaving her post and moving to the suburbs.
Wendy Katten, founder of parent advocacy group  Raise Your Hand, is leaving her post and moving to the suburbs.
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DNAinfo/Erica Demarest

LINCOLN SQUARE — The founder of parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand — who frequently criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools leaders — announced Wednesday she planned to step down from the group — and move to Evanston.

Wendy Katten, who lives in Lincoln Square, said her son will attend high school in Evanston, where her husband grew up.

"The decision to move on has been a long, grueling process," Katten wrote on the group's Facebook page. "In the end, for a number of reasons not limited to any single issue, my family has decided to make a change."

Jennie Biggs and Joy Clendenning will serve as interim co-directors starting in early September while the group's board searches for a full-time director, Katten wrote.

Despite the move, Katten said she will remain the co-director of RYHAction, the parent group's sister organization that advocates for statewide education policies.

"I will continue to work with this group to push for equity in education for all the students of Illinois — including those in CPS — who often are not getting the supports and resources they need to thrive," Katten wrote.

Katten, a graduate of Niles North High School in Skokie, formed Raise Your Hand in 2010 to address inadequate education funding and a threat by CPS to increase class size to 37 students.

"I can’t express how much the seven years leading [Raise Your Hand] have meant to me — the connections many of us have formed, the space that we have created to work on issues impacting the whole and not just our individual children — a place of shared values where we have found one another and worked day after day to push for something better," Katten wrote.

Mike Cohen, Katten's husband, was a member of the Amundsen High School Local School Council.

Members of the group responded to Katten's announcement by deluging the group's page with messages of thanks and good wishes — as well as some frustration.

"Damn you just made Rahm's day," one parent wrote. "I guess I took it for granted you would always be here."

Katten said she was most proud of the group's efforts to persuade the mayor and City Council to use tax increment financing district money for schools; highlight the need for recess for CPS students; fight for more teachers and staff members; and retain class size rules for special education at the state level.

The group also campaigned against CPS' use of standardized testing.

CPS' financial condition has worsened considerably since Katten founded Raise Your Hand with several other parents around a kitchen table.

CPS is facing a $129 million budget deficit, created when Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill in November that would have given Chicago's schools $215 million to help pay its pension bill.

Unless the state gives the district more money by May 1, Chicago schools officials have said they will end the school year on June 1 — 20 days early.

Rauner accused Illinois Senate President John Cullerton of breaking a compromise signed last June that allowed schools to open in September. Part of that deal promised more money for Chicago schools in return for statewide "pension reform," a long-held goal of the governor.

Rauner said Cullerton reneged on the pension reform.

CPS must pay its employees' pension fund $721 million by June 30.

In February, five families sued the state on behalf of CPS, claiming that the state has violated the civil rights of their children by giving Chicago public schools less funding than other school districts.

School districts outside Chicago are 58 percent white. The Chicago Public Schools system is 47 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black and 10 percent white.