What to the Chicago Principal Is the Fourth of July?

Jul 1, 2016 12:00:00 AM


It's time for the Fourth of July! A time for cook outs, pool parties, and family but to me it's more than coordinating a "red, white, and blue" outfit and watching fireworks. Every year I observe the Fourth of July by reading two documents:  The Declaration of Independence and  What to the Slave is the 4th of July? If you read both of these documents, you would have a greater understanding as to why Beyonce's "Freedomsong" as performed at the  2016 BET Awards began with a lesser known part of Dr. King's  I have a Dream speech which calls upon the federal government to make good on the "bad check, [...]which has come back marked insufficient funds." When it comes to Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Illinois school funding is marked "insufficient funds." I, like Dr. King, refuse to accept that Chicago Public Schools must settle for  bankruptcy as the governor of Illinois asserts. Why must predominately Black, Brown and poor school districts like Chicago Public Schools have to beg? It's no secret, Illinois is among 14 of the most regressive states to provide "less funding to school districts with higher concentrations of low-income students." In fact, according to the Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois ranks last in pre-K-12 funding and the Illinois Education Funding Advisory Board's recommendation has not been approved since 2002. Even more, the current general state aid has not been adjusted for inflation since from $6,119 (2011) per pupil to $6,535.12 (2016, adjusted for inflation). Chicago Public Schools are being asked to do more with less. For every dollar in taxes Chicago sends the state, Illinois returns Chicago Public Schools roughly 76 cents. This is not about one political party or another, it's about the failure of elected officials to secure the future of our children. I can't help but notice the correlation between Illinois ranking 50th in school funding and the gun violence plaguing the streets of Chicago. Many say that [pullquote]there are no easy solutions but when was securing the future of children about taking the path of least resistance? [/pullquote]Which parent of the year earned the coffee mug and matching t-shirt for doing the bare minimum? CPS principals have proposed  reasonable and actionable solutions which have gone largely unnoticed by elected officials calling for the bankruptcy of our school district. As a Black male principal living in Chicago and educating the children of Chicago, I seriously wonder what it must feel like to enjoy "self-evident truths" about one's equality, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and to be endowed with "unalienable rights" from one's Creator.[pullquote position="right"] What must it feel like to really be free from lead, bullets and shuttered schools and classrooms.[/pullquote] As an educator, I inherently believe in the promise of  tomorrow. We are not in  prison in need of a bail bondsman and adequately funding schools is not charity. It's equitably just. This Fourth of July I am not thinking about past battles and wars won, I am thinking about the present battle for the soul of our country and the future of our children. As  Jesse Williams, a former high school civics teacher, so eloquently declared at the 2016 BET Awards, here's to the "teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. It’s kind of basic mathematics—the more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize."

Robert Croston

Robert Croston is a Chicago Public Schools principal at Jenner Academy of the Arts and a youth leader at his local church. He started his teaching career as a Teach For America fellow at a Chicago charter school. He graduated  from Marquette University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and social philosophy, and earned a master’s degree from Harvard University Graduate School of Education’s School Leadership Program. He lives on the South Side of Chicago with his wife, Sheena.  

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