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.
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.
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.
Click here to learn more about Allison!
NBC 5 recently featured CICS Education Entrepreneur Fellow Stephanie Crosier discussing ChicagoRise’s innovative arts-infused program, Guitars Over Guns at CICS-Lloyd Bond.
Check out the video: https://bit.ly/2RGVAxq
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.
CICS Ralph Ellison Campus
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.
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.
In honor of Black History Month, we want to continue profiling educators, staff and students who make a difference at CICS. This week we would like to profile, Ms. Lentoya Stennis. She is the new CICS Lloyd Bond Office Manager. Read her story and why she loves working in education and at Lloyd Bond.
Lentoya Stennis is the office manager at CICS Lloyd Bond. Ms. Stennis has always loved education and considered becoming a school counselor or a teacher but knew that teaching wasn’t for her. “I am a forever student,” she said. “I am someone who needs to know and make sense out of the things around me and I love helping other people reach that moment.” She found her place working in administrative roles at schools. She first met Lloyd Bond School Director Tyson Daniel when she worked in Student Supports Services several years ago at CICS Loomis-Longwood. So when Ms. Daniel contacted her, she jumped at the opportunity to return to CICS.
For Ms. Stennis, being an administrator is almost like being a teacher, especially when she is surrounded by kids when schools are in-person. During remote learning, she has stepped into the role of organzing virtual events for students including the Bengal Café, “Where only love and good vibes live.” During the first week of Black History Month, Lloyd Bond, held a Wednesday celebration where 30 participants had the opportunity to hear poems from Paul Laurence Dunbar as well as original pieces read by Bond educators and staff members. Bond teachers, Ms. Pearman and Ms. Robinson, created a video of first graders reciting “Hey Black Child'' a poem by Countee Cullen. At the conclusion of the virtual event, Bond 5th grade teacher Ms. Morris stole the show with her lead-in and presentation of Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son”.
For Ms. Stennis, hosting these events are just another way to put something of herself into her work. Her love of the Bond family and community is important to her. “The core value for the month of February at Lloyd Bond is teamwork and I just want to do my part at being a great team player.” Ms. Stennis will continue to provide school staff and teachers with the support they need while also being mindful of how everyone at Lloyd Bond has a role in helping their students to succeed.
Ms. Stennis has a Bachelor of Arts from Governors State University and an Associate Degree from Westwood College in Graphic Design and Multimedia. She is also an artist and wants to offer students the opportunity to show off their gifts.
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.
Value-based 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.
A Strong Schoool Community
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.
The Power of Culture at CICS Lloyd Bond
Marcell Kirk is Dean of Students at CICS Lloyd Bond. He is also the Director of Climate and Culture, a role that is his passion. He has been at Lloyd Bond for 11 years and works with teachers, staff, students and their families to create a positive school culture that promotes students’ learning successes, reinforces collaborative interactions between all stakeholders, posits shared values and celebrates excellence. Mr. Kirk believes that the culture at CICS Lloyd Bond is what draws students and their families to enroll in the school. The following is Mr. Kirk’s perspective of school culture at Bond. It’s a story on why it is important to connect with students and build a community of trust and motivation for all children in an educational setting.
Being authentic, motivating, caring and honest are important qualities to have and they are what makes me passionate about what I do. My journey at CICS Loomis-Longwood started in 2000 when I was invited by a friend to be a substitute teacher. I returned to Longwood-Loomis in 2019 after working for ten years at a state university grant-funded program that offered non-traditional teachers the opportunity to become teachers for ten years. I accepted a position as a Middle School 8th Grade ELA Teaching Apprentice, and the 8th Grade Events Planner and Parent Liaison and Coordinator.
CICS Lloyd Bond has been dubbed by many as a hidden gem in the Altgeld Gardens community. Carmen Washington, a longtime parent at Lloyd Bond, shares her sentiments about the campus culture within the school and why she truly believes all things are possible once you enter through CICS Lloyd Bond’s campus doors.
Carmen’s own children started attending CICS Lloyd Bond in 2018. She was looking for a great school in the community and was told that CICS Lloyd Bond is a great charter school with a staff of dedicated educators and superheroes. She took a chance and enrolled her scholars at this campus and they immediately loved it. The rest has been history.
One of Carmen’s fondest memories of her children first attending CICS Lloyd Bond was her love of the school’s open lines of communication. She noted everyone in the school cares! As a parent, Carmen values the transparency and the sense of urgency that Lloyd Bond has with its families. This prompted her to become more active and involved in her children’s education.
“I am the parent who volunteers for everything! I love being involved, not only with just my children but with children in general. I’ve chaperoned field trips, volunteered in classes, helped plan events, read to classes and decorated classroom doors. I was also secretly the mascot for the boy's basketball team. I try to donate as much of my time as I can, said Carmen.”
Carmen always feels a great sense of pride and security as a Bond parent. She knows that her children are at a school where education is paramount, support systems are important and a family atmosphere is evident. Her children love the relationships they’ve built with their peers and the staff. They feel the school community has now become an extension of their family.
One way her students build community is through the campus' after-school activities, which exposed her children to new possibilities and are a true testament that students can do all things when they step out of their comfort zone. Her 5th grader has benefited from this tremendously and she has seen his confidence grow because of the school's dedication to fostering his own superpowers.
“My 5th grader at Lloyd Bond is very smart, talented, and has good behavior. He’s always been encouraged about his education and as a peer leader. He is excited to be on the basketball team and is now in a computer class. He loves the acknowledgment and receives rewards for his behavior.”
As a single mother of five, all of her children have attended CICS Lloyd Bond, and she is grateful to know that when she drops them off, her children are receiving a great education as well as building positive relationships. Throughout the years, Carmen has experienced some challenges with her sons and each time she was able to reach out to the staff at CICS Lloyd Bond. They have always gone above and beyond to show support. She would like to give a special shout-out to CICS Lloyd Bond’s Principal, Marcell Kirk, Dean McCray, Mr. Nobles, Mr. Redmond and Mr. Rivers. And a special thank you goes to Ms. Grier and Ms. Reavley for always helping her during times when she needed it the most. But also notes, no staff member goes unnoticed.
When asked the question, “Why should families choose CICS Lloyd Bond?”, Carmen responded, “Bond's educators are a hidden gem in the community. I feel like they truly care about each student. My children have learned so much. There is an abundance of love and communication. I’d never been comfortable with a school until my children started attending there.”
Carmen truly believes that “all things are possible” at CICS Lloyd Bond.
About Chicago International Charter School
Chicago International Charter School is a vibrant network of diverse Chicago charter schools that enable students to thrive every day, put them on a path to success in college and life, and empower entrepreneurial educators to pursue excellence through innovation. CICS is serving more than 7,400 students at 13 campuses across Chicago. To learn more, visit www.chicagointl.org.