Guest Blog: What Should We Expect From Public Education?

by Sue Khalaieff, Democracy Schools Network Manager

Over the past school year, the Illinois Humanities Council has sponsored a statewide series of free public programs called Continuing Ed, which have focused on the future of Illinois public schools. Events have been held in Chicago, Elgin, Decatur and Southern Illinois throughout the year. On Thursday, April 20th, I attended their discussion in Elgin which focused on what we should expect from public education. The roundtable discussion featured Tony Sanders (CEO of U-46), Rev. Nathaniel Edmond (Second Baptist Church), Julia McClendon (YWCA of Elgin), Karen Merchant (Bartlett HS parent), Tish Calhamer (Gail Borden Library), Madeline Villalobos (Parent Leadership Institute alumna), Tracy Occomy (Community Organization and Family Issues), and Mike Demovsky (Bartlett HS principal). The roundtable discussion was led by Denise Ahlquist of The Great Books Foundation.

I left that session feeling invigorated, inspired and better equipped to do battle with the forces that challenge the schools in our state. The diverse panel, the engaged audience, and a roomful of stakeholders who are so deeply committed to public education provided compelling evidence that bringing people together for this kind of conversation is a powerful civics lesson. There was great Democracy School representation in this round table as U-46 includes both Bartlett High School (a 2006 Democracy School) and Streamwood High School (a 2016 Democracy School).

“What should we expect from public education?” almost could have been entitled "Why every school should be a Democracy School?” as our themes were consistent throughout the discussion. Voice, equity, participation, civil discourse, developing citizens in a democratic society, getting feedback from stakeholders, empowerment, and community partnerships were all mentioned as key factors in what we should expect from our schools.

The format allowed the audience to interact with the panel; in fact, the actual “presentation” part of the evening took up only about one-third of the time. The majority of the ninety-minute program encouraged community members to comment on the remarks of the panel, as well as voice their own concerns and recommendations. What became very evident is that this combination of dedication, innovation and communication is allowing Elgin schools to positively address their issues and create a more positive future for their students.

Chicago is sponsoring their last session of the series, titled, Our School II- What the City’s Done, What it Can Do, on May 17 at the Union League Club. If you are looking for an upbeat and constructive ending to your school year, do yourself a favor and check it out.

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