Nine parents and four community members are vying for positions on the Local School Council (LSC) at Kenwood Academy High School, with the election scheduled for Nov. 19.
Parents and community residents are eligible to vote. The LSC in turn approves how Kenwood, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., allocates funds, develops and monitors its School Improvement Plan, evaluates its principal, Karen Calloway, and, in the event of a vacancy, would select a new one.
Nine of the candidates met over Zoom for a forum on Oct. 20.
"I'm only glad that I do not have to vote on anybody, because you are all so outstanding that I do not know what I would have to do if I had to participate!" said Principal Karen Calloway. "I feel it is a win-win across the board with all the candidates that we have. You all have amazing experiences that I believe would be a great addition to our school."
The candidates are listed as they are on the ballot.
Nine parents are running for six positions on the LSC.
Throughout Myriam Weaver's time as a Kenwood parent, she has been struck by the school's commitment to getting its students "academically and socio-emotionally ready for college, whether it's an HBCU or a predominantly White institution," she said. She and her husband volunteer with the school's band and track team, and she said she has been an active LSC observer over the years.
"I've come to meetings to watch a highly functioning team really come to support our principal and the assistant principals, and, again, just the initiative to really move the children from high school to young adulthood to college," she said. "As a candidate, I would love to support this effort."
Weaver brings decades of professional experience in strategic planning and asset management: "I do understand the functioning of a building as well as the functioning of an organization," she said.
Holly N. DuPart did not attend the forum but did file a candidate statement, saying she is running "to support the remarkable programming in place" and that she is "very impressed by what is offered by the school but also know that there can be even more progress if we all pitch in and help."
She has experience working on an after-school program and on the budget and finance committee at Drummond Elementary School, 1845 W. Cortland St., Easter Seals, Open Hand Chicago and Chicago NORML and said she enjoys working with a team. She also cited entrepreneurial and business experience from finance to real estate to urban planning to education.
Parent candidate and incumbent Montel Gayles said he is blessed to serve on two great boards: Kenwood's LSC, on which he has been chair and vice chair, and the finance chair of Northern Illinois University's Board of Trustees.
"During the time that that I've had an opportunity to serve with you all, we've had some great successes. Admittedly we've also had some great challenges," he said, noting the LSC's decision to keep police officers in the school. "Of course, I think we came on the right side of that issue. I look at the officers more as sentinels watching over our beautiful children, and other saw them more as some sort of violent tool, but without the proof of them otherwise being some kind of dangerous thing, I think those officers should be in our schools."
Challenges persist, and Gayles said he wants to remain on the LSC to see them through. He wants to see a pedway, to see the Cantor and main buildings go up, and he thinks construction will come about soon, and he wants to see building rehabilitation begin.
"Those are things that should happen to good kids," he said. "From my perspective of sitting on the board of trustees of Northern, I get the opportunity to see the product that comes out of Chicago's high schools. I can sit here with a great deal of certainty to say that when Kenwood kids graduate, they're ready for college, and they do well."
Thomas Hampton, another incumbent, said he likes the experience his two children are having at the school and that he wants to help the school continue to grow: "The transition that it's making with Principal Calloway, I feel very confident in what it can do, and I just really want to be part of that."
Ramona Burress, an incumbent and the current chairwoman, said as a graduate that Kenwood set her up for success in collegiate and professional success: "I know the only reason I was accepted into Northwestern or even being given that visibility into that being an option was because of the resources that Kenwood brought to the students."
Kenwood's status as a neighborhood school makes it an anomaly, she said.
"I understand the importance of equity when it comes to resources for students," she said. "As I've gotten older, I've clearly seen the divide in our schools in our district when it comes to racial makeup of schools, if I'm just going to be honest. Principal Calloway is a great leader, and I want to support her in any initiative that she brings forward," from visibility to celebrating teachers and staff to "recognizing that it takes a village to raise kids."
Art Curry, another incumbent, referenced his Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Southern Illinois University educations, professional background in supply chain and logistics, and past membership on Lincoln Park High School's LSC. "I saw how a Local School Council had opportunities, there on the Lincoln Park High School Local School Council, and I also saw a very well-run, diverse Local School Council at Kenwood, and I'm very proud to have been a part of that," he said. "I look forward to being a part of that moving forward."
Three of Curry's sons are Kenwood graduates succeeding at college because of the culture, climate and support they got at high school, and he wants to make sure moving forward that he continues to maintain that through membership on the LSC. He said the purpose of high school is to prepare kids for college, through college visits and leadership clubs. He also referenced his membership on the panel that hired Kenwood's new basketball coach.
He said the LSC did a walk-through of Kenwood and saw the need for a new HVAC system, which he said "is being executed."
"For me, the politics of it, the tough things where our LSC hands are tied, I don't enjoy those as much, but I do enjoy those things that we can do right away to support the school, maintaining the culture and climate," he said. One of their most important responsibilities, he said, is evaluating the principal, and he said he takes the task seriously.
Brenda Delgado-Als referenced her daughter's passion for Kenwood and said her Hyde Park–raised husband graduated from the school.
"I sit on the board of an organization that tries to save public education called Illinois Raise Your Hand," she said. "We fight for resources. I sued the city on behalf of Raise Your Hand to stop Lincoln Yards, because they're robbing the property taxpayers who pay property taxes for public education to funnel resources to the wealthiest neighborhoods, which I am passionately against."
"I love Kenwood because it is open to not just the brightest kids but the kids in the neighborhood," she said. "I want to fight for that. That's what public education should be, and the distinct role of an LSC member is to govern and oversee and support the principal, but govern what the school for its vision, and also has the flexibility to voice concerns at a higher level that need to be address."
She is passionate about funding disparities in public education and supporting opportunities for every kid in Chicago to have an excellent education, and she wants to serve on the LSC for the next five years during which her daughter will be at Kenwood — she is particularly interested in representing the views of academic center parents "and to hopefully keep funneling those parents to Kenwood and to keep taking advantage of those opportunities Kenwood uniquely offers."
Michelle Hoy-Watkins has an eighth-grader at Kenwood and has more than 20 years' experience as a forensic and police psychologist serving youth and adults.
"One of my areas of experience has been working with various CPS schools to expand programming as it relates to youth mental health wellness and socio-emotional development," she said. "One of those schools was actually Kenwood, and so I've seen the culture. I've been a part of that culture and understand some of the wonderful things that the school has committed to providing for the students."
If elected to the LSC, Hoy-Watkins would want to assist teachers, parents, staff and students by expanding services and identifying funding sources to enhance youth development. Having already served as a volunteer and as a Kenwood parent, she said she understands the school's culture and wants to contribute to it.
Qiana Nance did not attend the forum but filed a statement, writing that she "would like to join the LSC to assist in developing, monitoring and approving school programs. As a Kenwood Academy parent and alumna, the success of this institution is not only vital to the success of out students but also to the Hyde Park community and beyond." She is particularly interested in furthering Kenwood's school improvement plan.
Four community members are running for two positions on the LSC.
Brittany Croone did not attend the forum but filed a statement, writing that she served on the LSC from 2016-18 and has fundraised through Friends of Kenwood Academy. A Hyde Park resident, she referenced her analytical background in engineering and education and said she would like to continue applying her skills, experience and compassion to realize Kenwood's mission and vision.
"I leverage my years of experience teaching high school students across special, general and gifted educational settings, working with teachers as an institutional coach in many different schools across the city to make sure that we continue to set a high bar for" students, school leaders and teachers.
Keiana Barrett, a current parent member, called herself a 20-year community stakeholder in the Hyde Park area.
"It has been a tremendous opportunity to work in tandem with our principal," she said, citing Calloway's commitment to higher education, giving students access to opportunities to succeed and "assembling around her a very august body of parents, community reps, teachers and students who are also equally committed, and equally recognize how important it is to work in tandem."
Barrett referenced her professional background in engagement and government — she said she is a senior advisor to Ald. Sophia King (4th) and a communications consultant to the South East Chicago Commission and the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce — stressing the need for community advocacy "to get the resources that we rightfully deserve as taxpayers and as proud stakeholders in the community."
"I recognize that (CPS), which is the third-largest (district) in the nation, has an abundance of priorities," she said. "And while it is important to ensure that our schools excel, there is a tremendous amount of onus that is placed upon the individual school community to be their own walking billboard.
"As a community rep, I think it's very important to recognize the different portals, the different ways to engage our local community so that they understand the asset that they have with Kenwood High School being a Level 1+ school, which is the highest accolade and status that a school can have, and how signature that is for the South Side of Chicago, and for us to be able to tout that and tell our own story and tell our own narrative."
Felicia Davis-Fourte, a medical doctor, referenced her fundraising experience for the school and help establishing the school's online apparel store. She began by remembering her daughter asked her and her husband to switch schools and enroll in Kenwood.
"We live right down the street on 49th, and we were just amazed at all the opportunities that Kenwood had to offer and felt like we had to be a part of giving back to the school, giving back to the community," Davis-Fourte said.
She has served on the LSC as both a parent representative and for the community: "Whatever it is that we've been asked to do and not asked to do, that's what that commitment has been, from volunteering and helping different organizations in the school, from meeting physicals as a physician when they weren't able to get the physician on board to help out. Whatever it was, we were there, my husband was there, I was there. Since we were a part of the community, we wanted to be a part of this school and help in any capacity that we could possibly help in."
Omar Jamil did not attend the forum but filed a statement. He is a resident physician in internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Chicago and previously served on the LSC at Wells Community Academy, 936 N. Ashland Ave., from 2016-18, and taught at CPS from 2012-14.
"I have an interest in both the health and education of our local students and want to see if it is possible to help our students utilize the resources of our local medical center," he wrote. "With my background in education, I am passionate about helping students thrive in the classroom by giving teachers autonomy and helping to create the optimal learning environment."
Two Kenwood teachers, Debra Rojas-Chamas and Genesis Taylor-Young, have filed for the two teacher positions on the LSC. Students Mia Booth and incumbent Ashton Carter are running for the one position on the council, up for election among their classmates.
CPS is mailing ballots to parents, guardians and staff that must be received by Nov. 18 for elementary schools and Nov. 19 for high schools. Community members must vote in person, but parents, guardians and staff can also drop off their ballots at the school. Curbside voting will be available for individuals with disabilities, individuals who cannot wear a mask or individuals who choose not to enter the polling place due to pre-existing health conditions.
The Herald will summarize and publish all submitted candidates' statements and list all candidates for LSCs at local schools online and in print before the elections. The Herald will public results online and in print after the elections.