Top Education Stories You Don’t Want to Miss: April 11 – April 17, 2020

This Southwest Side Mom Knows Catalyst Maria Has Her Family’s Back

By Karla Raigoza-Galvan for Chicago Unheard

“In March, the coronavirus hit our city and took all Chicagoans, our health and our economy, by storm. As the number of sicknesses began to rise, our elected officials made the brave and right move to close our schools and cancel in-person classes. We all thought it would be for just a few weeks. But now, there is no end in sight to our home-schooling situation. I have two children, a kindergartener and a fourth grader, and they both attend Catalyst Maria, a charter public school in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood. I also work there and run an after school drama club. Before the pandemic hit, life at Catalyst Maria was exciting and busy – there was so much going on! It’s a school with scholars in grades K-12. Each student had classes that were focused on supporting each other to grow, with a heavy emphasis on learning new technology. There were so many after school programs – music, sports, mentoring. My drama club was one of them. We started the club a few years ago with just eight students. This year, we were over forty! We were going to perform Madagascar. It’s very sad to think that mid-April would have been when our performance would have happened. Despite the fact that Catalyst Maria was a busy school, we were also a very tight-knit community. The scholars were close to each other – even though their ages ranged so widely. The school was close to us parents. They included us in everything and made learning the policies, new teaching methods, and technology accessible. It’s been a dream school.  Now, our lives and my children’s education have been turned upside down by the pandemic. As a mom, I worry about the health, safety, and education of my children. But, I have never been more grateful that we signed them up to attend Catalyst Maria. Here’s why.”


Teaching Minds and Touching Hearts – A Fellowship-Winning Special Education Teacher

By Nicole Shih for Free Spirit Media

“Nick Tomasso is a special education teacher teaching at Catalyst Circle Rock elementary school in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. Tomasso fulfills Catalyst’s mission, “Teaching Minds and Touching Hearts” by building relationships with students through innovative teaching methods and hands-on experiences. His contribution to Catalyst brought him to be selected as a teacher fellow for the 2019-2020 Northrop Grumman Foundation Teachers Academy. He was the only teacher selected from Illinois and is going to participate with other educators to expand their knowledge about improving their teaching.”


Chicago’s 50 Most Powerful Women

By Chicago Mag

“Constance Jones. AGE: 39. OCCUPATION: CEO of the Noble Network of Charter Schools The head of Chicago’s largest charter network runs an 18-campus confederation with 12,000 students and an annual budget of $180 million. In the perennial argument over the role of charters in the public education system, Jones has an impressive stat working in her favor: Ten of the 12 top-ranked high schools in CPS’s 2019 School Quality Rating Policy rankings were in the Noble network.”


CPS Chief Education Officer Spells Out Goals for Remote Learning Plan

By Paul Caine for WTTW

“This week, Chicago Public Schools families are learning a new lesson: how remote learning works. School buildings have been closed for four weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, and while some students have been participating in educational activities for part of that time, the state requires all school districts to have a remote learning plan in place to ensure students are learning more. LaTanya McDade, chief education officer for Chicago Public Schools, says the district has clear goals in mind for its new remote learning plan. “We want to keep our teachers teaching and keep our students learning,” McDade said. “We know there is no way we can replicate the educational experience that our students have in the classroom, but we also know that we have to keep engagement. We have to keep our students connected to their school communities and our remote learning plan is really seeking to do just that.”


1 in 3 Chicago Public Schools students start remote learning without computers

By Nader Issa for The Sun-Times

“Almost a third of Chicago Public Schools students didn’t have a computer or tablet on Monday when the district’s 640 schools began state-mandated extensive remote learning plans. Efforts to close that divide have been underway and progress is expected in the coming days and weeks as the third-largest public school district in the country continues its attempt to teach 355,000 students from home. Of the 100,000 computers and tablets CPS officials said would be distributed for kids to use at home, 11,000 were handed out by Monday. That meant, by CPS’ own estimates, about 104,000 children didn’t have devices at the start of this week. CPS did not expect to have all those laptops distributed by Monday, the first day of classes after spring break. At least 400 CPS schools are planning to distribute a combined 60,000 devices by the end of this week, officials said.”


CPS pledges to give free internet hotspots, laptops to students experiencing homelessness

By Nader Issa for The Sun-Times

“Chicago officials are planning to hand out thousands of free mobile internet hotspot devices to the city’s public school students who are experiencing homelessness. Plans have already been in place to lend 100,000 laptops and tablets to Chicago Public School students to close massive disparities in access to technology as the district undertakes remote learning because of the coronavirus. Those computers are being distributed this week. Challenges have remained, however, with CPS identifying a total of 115,000 students needing laptops, and many more still needing internet. Though companies like Comcast are now offering free internet to low-income families for a limited time, many families are unaware of those resources or had other barriers to registering for the service. CPS hadn’t made hotspots available to students, citing a limited supply. Now the city has secured 12,000 devices that provide high-speed internet, officials announced Thursday. CPS spent $2.5 million to buy 11,200 of the devices, which include four months of free internet service. The other 800 were donated by the Sprint 1Million Foundation, and will have both phone and internet capabilities.”


Fellow Parents of Color, We Really Can Do This Homeschooling Thing

By Chris Butler for Chicago Unheard

“You are Black, or a person of color.  You live in Chicago, America’s third-largest city. And suddenly you’re homeschooling!  How on earth did this happen? The Coronavirus pandemic has caused school districts all over the country to cease from their regular classroom rhythm.  Homework packets, online learning, and lots and lots of time at home have quickly taken over for the regular rhythm of get up and go to school. And we all have our kiddos all day, every day! Of course, we know that the onset of mandatory homeschool is not the most significant thing happening in the world right now.  The economy has ground to a virtual standstill and many people are out of work. Churches, like the one I pastor, and other faith communities can’t gather for healing and inspiration. And far more devastating is the fact that many people in our city, our nation, and our world are sick and dying. But as I scroll my timeline and talk to my parishioners and friends, one thing is abundantly clear: for parents who were not planning to join the homeschool community this year, the struggle is real.   And since my wife and I have been homeschooling in Chicago for almost nine years now, I feel it is my civic responsibility to offer some advice.”