Dedicated teachers, overflowing bathrooms: What Chicagoans want Lori Lightfoot to know about their schools

If you could tell Chicago mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot something about your school, what would it be? When we asked, more than 330 educators, parents, and students weighed in.

Many parents praised their teachers, but said they are dissatisfied with special-education services, untended facilities, and unheeded complaints. They also didn’t understand why some schools get money for staff and repairs when others don’t, and wanted a clearer window into budgeting.

Teachers said that their principals can help or hinder their teaching and that campuses needed more counselors, social workers, psychologists and arts educators. Many educators also worried that students reach secondary school with subpar math and reading skills.

Below we’ve posted answers covering a range of topics. The survey did not ask respondents’ full names. Responses were edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

We heard from educators:

Educators want a voice at their school and freedom to initiate programs.

Our students are faced with many hardships and difficulties but come to school each day engaged and ready to learn. We have a new drama program which highlights students boldness, bravery and risk-taking ability so each student becomes more confident as the year progresses. It is where I look forward to teaching for the rest of my career despite being about an hour from my home.— Southwest Side elementary school teacher

They worry about enrollment declines, especially at neighborhood schools.

(We need) a plan for neighborhood schools to give them some clarity in how they can provide a learning opportunity to students who may not live within their boundary. GoCPS allows parents and students to make choices, but also has taken so much of this choice out of the hands of schools. — Southwest Side high school teacher

Our building is almost empty. The principal and her team are great and are trying to keep things afloat. Most of our teachers care about this place but CPS seems to care little about (our school). We were successful once. — West Side elementary school teacher

They worry that too many children are falling behind in math and reading.

I teach seventh grade and most of my kids are far below grade level. They do not have the basic skills needed to be critical thinkers and contributors. — Teacher on the West Side

I teach 10th grade literature/composition. In my seven years working for CPS (including charters), I have one major takeaway: Almost none of the students I’ve met upon their arrival in my middle and high school classrooms read at grade level. I have noticed that reading skills seem to stall around third grade. — High school teacher on the South Side

Teachers need more help.

Our students deserve a full-time social worker, counselor, and nurse to address community issues our students face that are out of our control right now. — Uptown elementary school teacher

I am a school psychologist who is scheduled at (a neighborhood Chicago high school) twice a week but I used to be there full-time. The need is tremendous especially at high schools. — Near West Side school psychologist   

We have one official social worker for 3,300 students; 95 percent of the social worker’s time is spent working with the students who have (special education plans). That leaves 2,700 students with no CPS supports to deal with issues related to mental health, trauma, substance abuse, violence in the home and community, etc. — and the impact they have on academics. — Northwest Side educator

Materials and technology are outdated, and buildings need critical repairs.

During rainfall, our bathrooms overflow and there might be students learning in the lunchroom and halls due to the lack of space. — Southeast Side elementary teacher

Our building is very old and our auditorium is crumbling and in desperate need of renovation. — Far North Side teacher

We are a 21st century school without access to adequate 21st century technology. Additionally, we do not have access to up-to-date textbooks. Teachers must supply their own copy paper. What job requires its employees to purchase their own work supplies? — North Side elementary school teacher

Some said that despite state monitoring, special education services are still thin.

My class currently is 35 percent individualized education program [a plan for special education] and we do not have a special ed teacher. My kids deserve someone who can give them the differentiated support they need. — Far North Side teacher

We are completely out of compliance regarding special education. (Special education plans are not being followed and minutes are not being met. The general ed teachers are trying to balance inclusion with little to no help. — Northwest Side elementary school teacher

Charter teachers worry about anti-charter rhetoric.

I want our new mayor to know that we, as a charter, are not a threat to her or the city. We are a resource. I’m scared of the rhetoric and do not want to get branded the enemy when so many of us are working so hard. — Southwest Side teacher

We heard from parents and students:

They by and large think their teachers are doing a good job.

I love my school! It is a family-oriented school with no fancy signs, bells or whistles but with dedicated teachers and parents working together to build a strong community of lifelong learners. — Parent at a Northwest Side elementary school

My school is an incredible place filled with opportunities and forward thinkers. — Fifth grader at a North Side elementary school

Like teachers, they also worry about facilities.

My daughter classroom is in the library! (The school) is overpopulated and in poor condition. There is also mold. —Parent at a South Side elementary school

We want to be able to attract neighborhood families back to our great school. We are working hard to tell our story — to share the wonderful things happening. Currently our track is almost unusable. Our facility is old. It is disheartening to see schools get monetary investments in their sports facilities and the school with some of the most success in the city is seemingly forgotten. We know a nice face-lift could help! — Parent at a South Side high school  

Our school has the very best leadership, dedicated teachers and parents, but not much money and no political clout. We have been waiting decades for a new annex building (30 years). Our school is now facing a $359,000 budget deficit and our outdoor field is a mud pit. How can the school attract new families when there’s such a need for major capital improvements? — Parent at a Northwest Side elementary school  

Parents think the district needs to establish a formal complaint process.

CPS needs to develop a comprehensive plan for parental disputes. — Near North Side parent

Many mothers are so sick and tired of nothing getting done and when we advocate — we get harassed and bad things start happening. It seems like everyone just throws complaints under the rug. — Parent at a Southwest Side elementary

Parents want to see more investments in neighborhood schools.

Most upper-middle class white parents in our neighborhood don’t even believe [our neighborhood elementary] is an option. I think choice ruins what could be vibrant community. When wealthier parents choose to dismiss a perfectly viable neighborhood school, they never actually get to know their neighbors, or the real struggles of lower income families. — Far North Side parent

The city’s past focus on “school choice,” selective enrollment, and charter schools has contributed to more than half of students in our attendance boundary opting out of [our school]. We ask you to re-prioritize neighborhood schools like ours, that serve communities with high needs. Take a close look at the data and needs at the school level, not just aggregated data at the network or regional level, which will mask the realities of individual schools. — Parent at a Southwest Side elementary school

Before- and after-school care is spotty.

I would like my children to continue in CPS; however, the lack of before- and after-[school] care means a working parent can’t make it happen.— Parent at a Northwest Side elementary school

This year they closed the morning drop-off program. I didn’t mind paying! — Parent at a North Side elementary school

Parents say their children with special needs and health issues are underserved.

Both my kids have IEPs and, although the school is the best they’ve attended in CPS, they’re still lacking funding, help and resources to accommodate their needs. — Parent at a North Side elementary school

I am a parent of a child that has Type 1 diabetes. We have since the first day of her kindergarten year changed our (work) schedules to accommodate the care of daughter because there has never been anyone to trust her care to in the Chicago public school system system. She is now going into seventh grade and nothing has changed. — Parent at a Northwest Side elementary school

Parents want smaller class sizes, librarians, and more support services.  

The library is only open two days after school and run by an aide. It saddens me to know what our students are missing out on. — Parent at a North Side elementary school

Over the last decade, schools lost so much money that we all seemed to think it is normal that schools no longer have adults to support the social and emotional learning needs of our students. Our classroom teachers are expected to be academic teachers, counselors, nurses and more. — Parent at a West Side school

The social worker, psychologist, and nurse are shared among many schools. Recess and lunchroom monitors are paid for by parent fundraising. There are just not enough adults in the building at any given time. — Parent at a South Side school

Parents have concerns about fundraising and lack of monitoring of it.

Our parent fundraising group raises $400K/year to fund extras like teacher aides and new technology. Multiple schools in the area are just as well-resourced. This exacerbates the existing inequities in CPS schools. I would like to see limits placed on parent fundraising and consideration of a policy that requires all schools that raise more than $100K/year to donate a percentage to under-resourced schools in the city. Honestly, I’d like to see parent fundraising groups eliminated altogether — that would be true equity. — Parent at a North Side school