Chicago needs 5,500 more candidates for local school board elections

Update: Chicago Public Schools has extended the application deadline to Wednesday, March 9 at 3 p.m.

With a Friday deadline for declare the application fast approaching and hundreds of new student places available, Chicago Public Schools faces a shortage of about 5,500 parents, students and community members for seats on a local school board.

Districtwide, 722 applications had been submitted for 6,239 total board positions at 509 schools as of Friday, and 307 schools had no candidates for vacancies, though it’s unclear how many applications were submitted. held on campuses and not yet centrally registered. .

The district said it had participated in 80 events to boost attendance before the deadline and historically received a slew of applications in the last week before the application deadline. LSC elections will take place on April 20 for elementary schools and April 21 for secondary schools.

Elected every two years and a facet of Chicago school governance since the mid-1990s, councils include parents, community members, school staff, and student representatives. (Students must be in sixth grade to run and complete one-year terms; to see who has signed up to run at your local school so far, click here.) They operate in the vast majority of district schools. Chicago’s school boards are one of the most hyperlocal examples of school governance in the nation.

Board authority includes voting on the school’s annual budget, approving the school’s school plan, and selecting and evaluating principals. In 2020, as a wave of student activism helped put school policing strategies in the national spotlight, Mayor Lori Lightfoot instructed Chicago high school boards to vote on whether to retain or remove police officers, a controversial transfer of authority that has put some members – who do not receive a salary – in a position of public scrutiny.

The district has struggled with lukewarm attendance over the past decade. In the last election cycle in 2020, as the city grappled with the pandemic, more than 35,000 votes were cast for council candidates, a 43% drop from the 2018 election. , about 900 seats remained vacant, a situation that caused a wave of nominations.

Organizer Natasha Erskine, who holds training workshops district independent through the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand, said she was trying to encourage more parents, community members and students to participate by highlighting the opportunity of this pandemic moment. .

“To be quite frank, I really feel like there’s no more time to be on a board,” Erskine said. “The pandemic has created a situation where everyone is on deck and seeing how schools with strong and effective LSCs have achieved this is truly a reflection of where our schools are at.”

Still, she worries she hasn’t garnered much interest in some areas of the city where her group is trying to spread the word and build representation, such as the Greater South Side.

“I hear, in conversations [with potential candidates]the exhaustion of it all – people really feel exhausted, for lack of a better word,” she added, fearing that this feeling could affect interest, especially in the busiest parts of the city. hard hit by COVID cases and deaths.

She said she hoped some changes to the election process this year would bring new energy. This year’s elections are the first to allow student representation at the elementary and middle school levels. The number of places for secondary students has also increased to three per school. High school student members have more voting power than college attendees.

“It’s a great opportunity to celebrate the voices of young people,” she said.

Rem Johannknecht, a senior at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, is completing a one-year term on the school board. During a time of “internal leadership challenges” on its campus, its board weighed in on the school’s budget and improvement plan and launched a principal search.

“A lot of times the adults at the table don’t really know what’s going on, and what the students have to say is really valuable,” he said. As a student representative, for example, he helped solve a school problem: a tendency for students to drop out of advanced math courses. After interviewing students, they learned that students felt less proficient with basic concepts at the start of the school year after prolonged remote learning and that some were discouraged by grading and assignment policies.

From there, LSC student members worked with students and teachers to align grading policies more closely with the Advanced Placement exam rubric and revamped online assignment requirements.

“We were able to make some really meaningful changes,” Johannknecht said.

District spokeswoman Mary Fergus said in a statement that the district recognizes that community, parent and student engagement through councils is a “necessary and powerful predictor” of a supportive environment. positive teaching and learning. The councils also acted as a springboard for future politicians; several current members of the Illinois City Council and General Assembly tout school board service as their first elected role.

Cassie Walker Burke is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Chicago. It covers early learning and K-12. Contact Cassie at

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