Debunking Charter School Myths & Celebrating the Longest Standing Charter in Illinois - Chicago International Charter School

Nearly 40 years ago, the concept of charter schools was first introduced to encourage new and innovative ways of educating young people. Since then, charters have grown into a national movement serving 3.7 million students in nearly 8,000 schools in 46 states, plus D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam. While public charter schools have seen tremendous growth, success, and public support since their founding, many misconceptions exist about charter schools.

Whether you are curious about public charters or a member of the CICS family, we have put this page to share the facts behind some of the common misconceptions.

 

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One thing is abundantly clear: public charter schools have revolutionized education by providing equitable opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds. Through innovative educational models and personalized approaches, public charter schools break down barriers to learning, ensuring that every child, regardless of their zip code or socioeconomic status, has access to a quality education. By tailoring instruction to individual needs and fostering a culture of inclusivity, charter schools create environments where students can thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.

In addition to promoting academic success, public charter schools empower families to actively engage in their children's education by offering them the freedom to choose the educational environment that best suits their needs and aspirations. This freedom of choice not only enhances the educational experience, but also strengthens the bond between families, schools, and communities. As families become active partners in the educational process, they play a crucial role in shaping their children's educational journey and advocating for their success. Therefore, advocating for policies that support educational diversity and innovation is essential to ensure that charter schools continue to thrive and provide transformative educational experiences for all students.

 

About Chicago Charter International Charter School (CICS)

Founded in 1997, Chicago International Charter School (CICS) is the longest-standing charter school in Chicago, pioneering innovative education since its inception. Today, CICS operates a diverse portfolio of 13 tuition-free charter schools in partnership with Civitas Education Partners, Distinctive Schools, and ReGeneration Schools. This collaborative model ensures tailored, high-quality education for students. A recent study from Stanford University found CICS Avalon, CICS Basil, and CICS Washington Park - all managed by ReGeneration Schools - to be the #1 gap-busting schools in Illinois given their elimination of learning disparities. In 2023, CICS boasted graduation rates surpassing CPS averages, with graduates receiving $94 million in scholarships. Nearly 80% of CICS campuses outpaced Illinois' growth averages, while 60% of its principals identify as Black, reflecting a commitment to diversity and excellence.

Educator: Kevin Kreller

What is your role at your school?

I am a Mentor Teacher at CICS Irving Park. I teach three sections of 8th-grade History, co-teach a section of Algebra, and I help coach teachers.

Family Update: CICS Response to COVID-19

March 13, 2020

Dear CICS Families: 

I want to thank each of you for your attention to the developing situation regarding COVID-19, or coronavirus, in Chicago and nationally. As of now, we are not aware of any confirmed cases of or concerning exposure to COVID-19 at any of our campuses. I want to assure you that CICS is closely monitoring the situation and working with CPS and local public health officials to offer guidance to our staff, students and families. As always, the health and safety of our students and teammates are our highest priorities.  

Over the last week, CICS has put together a COVID-19 Response Team to stay up-to-date on the latest local developments and recommendations from CPS, the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control, as well as to field questions from our staff and families and develop and communicate guidance as CICS responds to the evolving COVID-19 situation. While it is our hope that our schools will remain open and operating on their regular schedules in the weeks and months ahead, we are also working on contingency plans for remote learning and for access to the school food program in the event of a prolonged closure. Please complete this two-minute survey so that we can properly prepare for support should we need to close one or more campuses. 

We’re also taking reasonable precautions to limit the exposure to and prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our schools and the surrounding communities. While we are still permitting local travel within the Chicago city limits, we have made the difficult decision to cancel or postpone all staff and student non-local domestic and international travel on behalf of CICS from now through April 10, 2020, the last day of Spring Break. This includes CICS-sponsored and coordinated student spring break trips and college tours. We recognize how disappointing this decision may be, especially for trips that our students have been anticipating for some time, but this month-long pause will allow us to focus on limiting potential exposure and managing risks, while we monitor the latest developments. 

We will also be canceling or postponing student gatherings and events outside of the regular school day. After-school programs will continue at our campuses as scheduled. Cancelled or postponed events may include concerts, parent events and dances, and your school director will follow up with more details about plans for scheduled events. 

Please remember to continue practicing reasonable precautionary measuresto keep yourself healthy and prevent the spread of the virus, which include regularly disinfecting frequently touched objects, frequently washing your hands, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and staying home if you are feeling ill or exhibiting symptoms such as fever, coughing and/or shortness of breath. If you are known to have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, or if you have any other concerns of exposure in general or at the campus, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and your school director immediately. 

For the most reliable and up-to-date information, please visit www.chicago.gov/coronavirus or www.cdc.gov/coronavirus. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the CDPH Coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You may also reach out to the CICS’ COVID-19 response team line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or CICS Main Office by phone at 312-651-5000.  

While the current situation is concerning, there is quite a bit that we can do to limit exposure to and prevent the spread of the virus. I assure you that our team is continuing to follow the latest developments and we will continue to update our families as the situation evolves. Thank you for your continued trust in CICS and for allowing us to continue to be a resource for you and your family. 

 

Warmly, 

Elizabeth Shaw

CEO 

Chicago International Charter Schools

 

FAMILY UPDATE: CICS RESPONSE TO COVID-19

Federal Relief Update: What impact have we seen from how CICS prioritized the COVID-19 relief dollars?

Previous Piece (June 2021)

In June, I wrote a Voices Blog piece to share more with our community about how we make our budgetary decisions at CICS and what the incoming federal relief dollars might mean for how we support our schools, teachers, and students this school year. 

Now, a few months into this school year, I have the pleasure of being able to follow up on my piece and share more about our priorities, our spending, and most importantly, the impact we hope to see from this landmark investment in our schools. 

Overall, CICS received funds from three federal relief bills passed in 2020 and 2021: the CARES Act in April 2020; the Coronavirus Relief Bill in December 2020; and the American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021. The most recent of these relief packages, the American Rescue Plan Act, resulted in an influx of approximately $7.7 million to invest across all 13 CICS campuses. While each SMO and schools had the autonomy to spend their dollars as they deemed necessary, I know we were all united around the common priorities and values that drive decision-making across our network. 

To ensure every student in the CICS community can flourish, we had to ask ourselves some important questions before allocating these dollars. How do we get our kids back into schools safely on a full-time basis? Once they’re there, how do we keep kids and teammates safe in our schools without taking away dollars from instruction? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we use funds to equally prioritize both social-emotional health and academic recovery?

The answers to these questions are what ultimately drove our spending decisions. I am eager to share some of the big ways we invested our dollars:

  • New Personnel: An immediate and concrete way to better support our teachers and students was to hire additional personnel who are aligned to the priorities we set. We wanted to make it easier to keep students safe and healthy, so we created new or additional positions like in-house substitutes, additional school nurses, and temporary support staff to help with arrivals, contact tracing, and managing our care rooms. We also added staff to better support learning, especially in this new context, such as technology leads and Virtual Academy instructors. More hands on deck, especially when they are the right hands, can make immeasurable differences in student learning and teacher sustainability.
  • Technology & Innovation: As COVID-19 continues to influence the way we teach and the way students learn, it’s important that we continue investing dollars to help us adjust to this evolving reality. This means investments in maintaining our one-to-one student laptop ratio, investing in software and platforms to improve parent communication, and putting dedicated resources behind our Virtual Academies to support remote and quarantined learners. At CICS, we pride ourselves on our ability to innovate in the name of supporting excellent instruction and equitable learning. Leveraging dollars to support this aim is a natural use of these increased funds.
  • Staff Development & Resources: Meeting students’ academic and social-emotional needs, even in the midst of continued change, will always be a top priority across CICS. Allocating dollars towards this aim was a critical way we invested in our students’ futures. Whether that investment was in continued support and resources for trusted programs like Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) or in introducing new concepts and tools to educators through additional professional development, we know that schools made decisions to put dollars towards ensuring staff can holistically support and nurture all students to learn and grow.

The above priorities certainly don’t fully encompass all the ways that we have leveraged this $7.7 million in additional dollars for our students. However, I hope they have given you a window into how we translate these priorities into concrete expenditures. And, perhaps more importantly, I hope they give you insight into the kinds of impact we hope to see in the months and years ahead.

If we invest in the tools and resources to keep our communities safe, we can mitigate dangerous exposures before they start and instead focus on rebuilding our communities and supporting learning. If every student has a laptop and access to both in-person and virtual instruction, we know learning can continue despite any obstacles. If we acknowledge the challenges facing our schools in terms of staffing and capacity, and innovate around personnel accordingly, we can help provide some much needed relief. And if we are constantly learning about and investing in our students’ needs – both academic and social-emotional – then we know we can set them on a path towards seizing the kinds of successful futures they each deserve.

As I mentioned in June, an organization’s budget and spending tells the story of what matters to them. I hope in communicating a little more about how CICS has spent these precious federal relief dollars, you now have better insight into the concrete ways we are prioritizing our schools, teachers, and students during this landmark school year.

How One CICS Trailblazer Shares Her Passion & Lineage With Staff, Students & Families

Coming from a strong lineage of educators, Allison Hansen, CICS’ Chief Schools Officer, knows all too well what it means to be a trailblazer in the field of education. Inspired by her grandmother, who once taught in a one-room schoolhouse full of K-12 students, Allison has learned that the sky's the limit when the right supports are in place to ensure staff and students thrive. 

Growing up in a tight-knit family in Des Moines, Iowa, Allison strives to bring her love and belief in the strength of the community into the work she leads. Allison began her journey in education when she became a 2009 Baton Rouge, Louisiana Corps Member with Teach For America. Allison has served in several leadership roles throughout her past endeavors. Still, it wasn’t until her first leadership role as a teacher leading 32 2nd graders that she uncovered a passion for education. Education was not originally in Allison’s plans, but now supporting schools is her life’s mission.

She is grateful to be a part of a movement fighting educational inequities here at CICS. Allison has seen inequities in education across the country through her work in post-Hurricane Katrina Southern Louisiana, Philadelphia, Camden, and Washington, D.C. but through that work, she has also seen the transformational and sustaining impact great leaders can have in the communities they serve. Allison knew she wanted to play her part and that there was a lot of work to do.

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Her time with CICS has allowed her to implement her core values, shaped by her career as a teacher, teacher coach, principal, and education researcher, into the decisions that are made impacting students and families. Allison’s mission is to ensure CICS responds to the challenges that face students, families, educators and school leaders with a sense of urgency and a “students first” mindset. In her role, she is able to advocate and support principals and in turn, help make decisions for our most important key stakeholders - students, families and educators. 

Allison dreams big and she has many hopes for CICS. Her motivation for continuing the work she does comes from her desire to make sure students feel a sense of belonging while showing families and students that they are in the best schools in the city of Chicago. Helping make CICS schools an exceptional place is not enough for Allison. She strives to ensure that students are nurtured and feel empowered knowing that they can accomplish anything they want to when they leave their respective campuses. 

Something she’s been excited about this school year is the continued partnership with The New Teacher Project (TNTP), to help build a transformational coaching approach for teachers, leading to a whole-child approach for students. This innovative partnership has led to significant growth proving that when we invest in our leaders and teachers, great things happen for our students.

Allison knows that families trust our CICS campuses with their most valuable and prized possessions, their students. Her mission is to ensure that this most sacred responsibility of educating students is at the center of all decisions so our students, families and educators can thrive. 

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Click here to learn more about Allison!

 

ISBE Results for Chicago International Charter School (CICS) Shows Growth Outpacing Illinois Schools

This week, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) unveiled its latest Illinois School Report Card summative designations, which are designed to help school communities better understand how well a school is serving its students. The designations are a key component of Illinois’ school accountability system and they allow networks, like CICS, to understand better our strengths, areas for growth, and performance of all public schools across Illinois.  

Parent: Christy Schmidt – CICS Irving Park

My husband and I were looking for the best option for our two children. Our neighborhood has great elementary schools, but we wanted options, a choice. We know of a few other families at CICS-IP and how much they loved it.  So we started thinking our children should attend CICS-IP. We liked all the possibilities – at the time, it sounded like students here are being prepared for high school. After touring the Irving Park campus and understanding their personalized learning curriculum, we decided this was the best option for us and our children.

Parent: Erin Fox - CICS Irving Park

We were looking for a school that offered differentiated learning of some sort. We originally enrolled in a Catholic school since the Chicago Public School lotteries were unsuccessful for us. A week before CICS-IP started its school year, we received a call that a spot was open. After a few calls and some investigation, we decided to send our daughter to CICS-IP because of the differentiated learning program.

Parent: Johanna Fricano – CICS Irving Park

For us, our decision came during our child’s second year at CICS-Irving Park. For kindergarten, CICS-IP was logistically the best option for us. The campus was on my way to work and provided a reasonably priced aftercare option. My husband and I felt good about the school when we both went to an open house, so we thought why not try it and apply the following year. We ended up loving the school and had found our home at CICS-IP! 

Reflecting on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and His Legacy

This year marks the 26th anniversary of the United States honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s  life and legacy as a civil rights leader. More than ever, we need a moment to reflect on what still needs to be done to honor him from both a human and civil rights perspective. To celebrate this day, Taquia Hylton, CICS Ralph Ellison School Director, offers her reflection on the importance of this holiday, and discusses the need to continue Dr. King’s work of justice and equality for all. 

On the morning of January 7,  a day after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, I woke up with the words from "The U.S Pledge of Allegiance'' on my mind. I remember thinking over and over the words, "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all". I thought to myself, Francis Bellamy probably didn’t write this with black and brown children in mind. This anthem still does not ring true. It doesn’t feel like the citizens in this nation have been indivisible at all. Our country seems to be more divided than ever before. Why? Because, what we have seen in the last few weeks (and over four years) is the result of divisive rhetoric from the country's 45th Commander In Chief. His words drove hundreds of "U.S. citizens'' to storm a building that should have been impenetrable, the symbol and meeting place of our democracy.  

As an educator, when I think about liberty and justice I am drawn to each term's formal definitions. What is justice? Merriam Webster defines it as "the quality of being just, impartial, or fair." Liberty is defined as "the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges." Then, I reflected on the positives that came out of the day instead of the disheartening images that flooded every imaginable news media outlet.  I chuckled as "liberty" and "justice" presented themselves in the state of Georgia via the results of the Senate election.  

Just a day before the insurrection, the people of Georgia exercised their liberties at their polling places. As a result, Reverend Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the same church where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, was elected the first African American Senator from the State of Georgia. We have come a long way! It brought me a sense of joy knowing Dr. King’s hard fought journey for the equal rights of African Americans became a reality with the election of Reverend Warnock. But more needs to be done. 

As we celebrate Dr. King's life and legacy, I am grateful for the contributions that he and so many others have made for black people to be able to experience liberty and justice. Though African Americans have made incremental steps in society, we have a long way to go. In the words of Dr. King, "No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." Justice is NOT for "just us" nor is it exclusive of the black and brown community.  It is for ALL of us! Like Dr. King, I have that dream too.  

Taquia Hylton

Principal 

School closure extended through April 20

Dear CICS families, 

 Minutes ago, Mayor Lightfoot announced that all CPS schools will remain closed through April 20. Given the necessity of this action to protect the health and well-being of our students, families and communities, CICS will follow suit. Please note that our previously scheduled Spring Break from April 6 through April 10 will continue as planned and we will not provide teacher-directed instruction during that week. We will follow up with more details and guidance as we learn more, but please know that we are committed to supporting our students throughout this extended closure.

These are unprecedented times and I urge you to please stay informed and take care of yourselves, as we will all be in this for what feels like a very long haul. 

Take care, 

Elizabeth

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[Spanish Translation]

Asunto:  Cierre de la escuela extendido hasta el 20 de abril.

Estimadas familias de CICS:

Hace solo unos minutos, el alcalde Lightfoot anuncio que todas las escuelas de CPS permanecerán cerradas hasta el 20 de abril. Dada la necesidad de esta acción para proteger la salud y el bienestar de nuestros estudiantes, familias y comunidades, CICS hará lo mismo. Tenga en cuenta que nuestras vacaciones de primavera programadas previamente del 6 al 10 de abril continuarán según lo planeado y no proporcionaremos instrucción durante esa semana. Seguiremos con más detalles y orientación a medida que aprendamos más, pero tenga en cuenta que estamos comprometidos a apoyar a nuestros estudiantes durante este cierre prolongado.

Estos son tiempos sin precedentes y les insto a que se mantengan informados y se cuiden, ya que todos estaremos en esto por lo que parece ser un viaje muy largo.

Cuídanse, 

Elizabeth

Voices Blog: Brandy Holton - CICS Irving Park

I’m a huge advocate of children having fun and feeling confident while learning! I love hands-on and highly engaging learning activities being taught in the classroom--this teaching style is what makes being a middle school science teacher exciting. As an educator, I’ve often wondered how to meaningfully incorporate these crucial components into my daily lesson plans.

Voices Blog: CICS Talent Visionary

Eddie Johnson, Managing Director of Talent for CICS, defines diversity beyond the common terms of race and gender. When there is an open role on our campuses, she also looks for a diversity of experiences in candidates for each position. During interviews she often asks potential employees to talk about their own cultural competencies, focusing on how the CICS value of equity resonates with each person. Mrs. Johnson believes that the lived experiences and cultural awareness of CICS teachers can provide our students with a wider view of the world. A diverse workforce also can have a deep and lasting influence on school culture.

Positive school culture is one of the cornerstones that Eddie Johnson identifies as one of the reasons that people choose to work on our campuses. Research from several recent studies have indicated that a value-based school culture (pro-active disciplinary practices, professional development, opportunities for growth and recognition) is as important as compensation. CICS has been collecting data to guide the talent team in understanding why educators choose CICS and how to ensure that our schools retain the best and most talented teachers. Mrs. Johnson was instrumental in creating and implementing a data-driven equity-based compensation model earlier this year. Prior to the pandemic shutdown, Mrs. Johnson had attended a number of recruitment fairs on college campuses and saw other school districts advertising their starting salaries. When she talked with students, she walked them through the CICS model which not only has compensation lanes but also offers a range of benefits that few charter schools can match. 

While professional development opportunities and parental leave benefits are important factors that influence teacher recruitment and retention, Mrs. Johnson believes that a positive school culture is still one of the strongest attractions of the CICS schools. The opportunity to share in the values of equity, diversity, innovation and positive change for students to what she believes brings talented professionals into our classrooms. She is confident that CICS’ continued investment in creating a culture where everyone can engage and learn will sustain its student-focused environment and continue to build a strong community that works together to help all students succeed.

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