Real parent involvement not bought at Walgreen’s (memories of Field School)

Parents protest Walgreens' opposition to fair school funding (1993)

So, Rahm Emanuel went swimming at his health club recently and got a great idea – give parents a $25 gift card from Walgreen’s and solve the parent involvement problem! (I guess the pool had already given him enough great ideas for solving Chicago’s homicide epidemic.)

He took this great idea to my old neighborhood school, Eugene Field Elementary, and, with Walgreen’s CEO Greg Wasson, announced that parents at 70 schools with low parental involvement would receive cards loaded with 25,000 “customer loyalty” points (worth $25).

“This is a way, in my view, of incentivizing responsible parenting,” said Rahm.

Right. Because parents have no real incentive for supporting their children’s education.

Setting the press conference at Field brought back some powerful memories, going back 25 years (wow, really?) when our two sons attended the school.

I remember being elected to the first local school council at Field. At the first meeting, we elected the top vote-getter as our chairperson. His daughter’s teacher stood up in the meeting and threatened him in front of the principal and the entire audience. Shortly after that, his daughter decided to transfer to another school, so the father lost his eligibility to be an LSC member.  All of this was done with full knowledge of the district. That was how CPS “incentivized” parent involvement at Field.

I remember when the Field teachers, with the blessing of the principal, came out in force to a PTA meeting and voted themselves in to all the PTA officers’ positions, effectively shutting parents out of any role in the parent-teacher organization. That was how CPS “incentivized” parent involvement at Field.

The LSC got rid of that principal, and hired a new one. She seemed great for a while, but then lots of bad advice from upper management led her to hide in her office and, among other things, deny the offer my husband and I made to run a Great Books program in the school. She actually wrote us a letter saying that the school had “enough volunteers.” CPS officials saw nothing wrong with this letter. That was how they “incentivized” parent involvement at Field.

Eventually the LSC found a better principal fit with Rachel Resnick – and I have no idea how things are for parents under the current principal. Apparently not good enough.

But my perspective at PURE allows me to continue to see how CPS and the mayor “incentivize” parent involvement around the city:

  • CPS allows principals to break federal parent involvement rules by refusing to allow PURE parent workshops to take place, even though the NCLB parent advisory committees have voted to have the workshops.
  • CPS encourages principals to waste hundreds of thousands of parent involvement dollars every year by sending school staff and a few parents to out-of-state conferences (airfare, hotel, meals and stipends included in the cost) while parents at home gain nothing.
  • CPS’s Office of LSC Relations continues to blacklist PURE from LSC training even though LSC members prefer independent training over CPS’s cursory bullet-point sessions.
  • Rahm’s cronies in the foundation and corporate giving world continue to blacklist independent LSC/parent support groups like PURE and Designs for Change, a situation which one of the late Don Moore’s children suggested contributed to his early death.
  • Rahm and his cronies ignore and disrespect elected, parent-run local school councils while pushing education privatizers’ phony “parent empowerment” programs like school choice and the parent trigger.

PURE’s response to Walgreen’s and other corporate sponsors of phony parent empowerment has always been, “Start by paying your fair share of school funding” so that Illinois moves from the bottom of the heap in per-capita school funding. Then we can talk about your gift cards and your swimming pool brainstorms.


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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.