Chicago Public Schools sees enrollment rise, launches 5-year plan


Chicago Public Schools officials announced the first enrollment increase the district has seen in a dozen years, with 1,185 more students this school year.

At the first in a series of community meetings Thursday, the district also said its attendance rate has held steady despite the loss of bus service for thousands of students, and it shared efforts to devise a five-year road map for improving school facilities and achievement, particularly for Black students.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez also celebrated a partial reversal in learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with elementary students’ test scores in spring showing improvements in reading and math, and in some cases returning to 2019 levels.

But among certain demographic groups, the scores also show stark disparities. And community members at Thursday’s meeting at Austin College and Career Academy High School on the West Side raised a host of issues — from opportunity gaps experienced by Black students to the impact of lacking bus transportation — that remain ongoing, despite the district’s recent successes.

Chicago Pubic Schools CEO Pedro Martinez attends a meeting at Austin College and Career Academy High School on Sept. 28, 2023.

For kindergarten through second grade i-Ready tests, scores increased sixfold among Black students, Martinez said. “We need to keep this momentum going,” he said. “Because we know achievement and opportunity gaps still exist and closing those gaps must remain a top priority moving forward.”

As part of its five-year strategic plan, CPS announced the creation of an advisory team, reporting to Martinez, to helm the creation of a Black Student Success plan.

Speaking alongside other community organizers, former board member Dwayne Truss said folding the initiative into a broader five-year plan wouldn’t suffice. He said advocates had met with CPS to propose the creation of a committee similar to the board’s Special Education Advisory Committee, whose proceedings are public, formed in July.

“(We) met with you. Sounded good; gave us hope. And then for you to turn around and say, ‘Well, we’re gonna wrap this thing up to a bigger picture,’” Truss said. “We’re just simply asking for a seat at your table. … We have community people that brought this idea up, met with you sincerely, South, West Side of Chicago, and it’s like you’re making that announcement without even giving us the courtesy.”

Talking to board President Jianan Shi, Truss said, “Dude, it’s not a good look, especially when you’re an Asian American person talking to Black folks in a Black neighborhood, saying, ‘This is what we’re gonna do.’”

Board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland, a CPS parent and University of Illinois at Chicago professor of African American history, said she recognized that previous reforms have failed Black students, resulting in ongoing inequities.

“These persistent opportunity gaps for Black students in particular are a sign of our collective failures as adults, not some type of inferiority among Black children. And this … then requires a bold new vision for the future of Chicago public schools. And I understand why people distrust us to do that work,” said Todd-Breland, who was appointed to her first term on the board, like Truss, by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2019. After he expressed opposition to Lightfoot’s plans to build a new high school in the South Loop, Truss’ term was not renewed when it expired in 2022.

“The only way to address the needs of Black students and communities is for us to do this work together,” Todd-Breland said, encouraging community members to help the district create a Black Student Success plan that she said would be voted upon later this year.

“This is why we are here,” Shi said of community members’ criticisms. “We’re not going anywhere; we are not shying away from the feedback that we got today.”

Chicago Board of Education President Jianan Shi leads a meeting at Austin College and Career Academy High School on Sept. 28, 2023.

From October to May, the district will hold a series of events to engage community members in devising a five-year road map meant to guide reforms and improvements from 2025 to 2030.

A survey and dedicated site will be released next month, when Martinez is scheduled to hold multiple State of the District events. Community roundtable meetings on the budget and facility improvements are slated to take place in November and December, with additional meetings in the new year dedicated to planning. A draft of the five-year plan will be released in June, according to CPS.

After the meeting, CPS announced the appointment of Nicole Milberg, recently the chief of schools for Network 6, as the district’s new chief of teaching and learning, a role that will provide leadership and support in implementing CPS’ core instructional vision and goals, according to a district news release.

In a presentation on district enrollment trends Thursday, Sara Kempner, CPS’ director of enterprise data strategies, said the current student population of nearly 323,300 students — a 1,185 student increase — represents a slight reversal of the district’s longtime downward trend.

Largely driven by the expansion of free, full-day prekindergarten, the number of students joining the district this year outpaced the number who left, as graduates or transfers, for the first time in 12 years, Kempner said.

Meanwhile the number of students transferring to schools outside of Chicago, home schooling or transferring to private schools fell, Kempner said. CPS doesn’t track students’ immigration status, she noted. But a “substantial” increase in the number of students in temporary living situations and a 10% increase in English learners may reflect the influx of newcomer students from the southern border who arrived with their families seeking asylum, according to the district.

Spanish speakers represent the bulk of English learners, who comprise 22% of all students. Enrollment also increased among students whose home language is Russian, Ukrainian and Arabic, CPS said in a news release.

The racial composition of the district hasn’t significantly changed, the district said. Enrollment declined by less than 2% among Black students this year, which is half the rate of decline in previous years, Kempner said. Latino and Asian students’ enrollment increased by less than 2% each and other groups have remained at current levels, she said.


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