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Phyllis Lockett

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Transforming the Public Education System in Chicago

Posted: 02/ 3/2012 4:32 pm

Over the last several weeks, the dialogue in Chicago has centered on "saving schools" instead of where it belongs -- on "saving students."

Last week, more than 7,500 parents and students from Chicago came to the New Schools Expo in search of quality school options. While it's encouraging families came out in droves demanding better schools, it also sheds light on the harsh reality that there are not enough quality education options in the neighborhoods that need them most.

As a child of two CPS teachers and a product of the system, I know first-hand that there are some great neighborhood schools. But I also know that there is an unfair geographic distribution and that too often the quality of a child's education is defined by their zip code.

Simply put, there are not enough great public schools in Chicago -- period. Our city needs more high-performing magnet, selective-enrollment, charter, turnaround and neighborhood schools in communities of highest need. Regardless of the school model, we need to support what works. There is room for all involved in education to succeed. Until that happens, Chicago's children will not.

As education options become increasingly important, it's critical parents and students understand what charter schools are, and just as important, what they are not.

Charter schools are free, public schools with open enrollment that serve neighborhood students. Most importantly, they are preparing students for college, careers and success in life. Teachers make no excuses; neither do students. Everyone is held accountable. Charters are opening doors that were previously closed, and truly transforming the public education system in Chicago. And as evidenced by the 19,000 applicants on charter waiting lists, we know that our work is far from over. We must work together to give families the options they so richly deserve.

In a city where half of our kids drop-out, we need every public school to deliver, no matter what kind of school it is. Only then can we truly start "saving students."