José Alvarez

“Moving the policy needle from good to great”

As an administrator for Chicago Public Schools, José Alvarez worked with local school councils and community based organizations across the city to communicate educational programs, initiatives and address constituent issues. With the relationships established between COFI, POWER-PAC and the district, if a problem did arise, all the necessary parties could meet to resolve it. Maintaining a good institutional and constituent relationship was most important to the district, COFI and POWER-PAC.

Parent involvement is critical for district leaders seeking to make changes on behalf of Chicago’s students, parents, and stakeholders. The district’s work with COFI’s parent leaders was an important part of that process.

Early in my career at Chicago Public Schools (CPS), I first came into contact with COFI parents through the parent training academy and also through our work with LSCs. During my regular communication and experiences with COFI and POWER-PAC, I saw a unique parent group that is passionately dedicated to improving our school system for their children and their communities.

With a clear agenda and collaborative nature, I appreciated their willingness to not only hear and discuss matters that may not have been ideal but to help the district work towards a solution which met everyone’s needs.

I still remember some of the parents who were always at table doing their part: Felipa Mena, Rosalva Nava, Nelly Torres, and Lynn Morton, just to name a few. These were zealous change agents who left an indelible mark in my memory and I fondly appreciated their honest feedback.

I recall when COFI made their pitch to School Board President Michael Scott about restorative justice. Scott believed in community and parent engagement. He made certain that time was set aside to hear directly from CPS’ parents and that their comments were heard through various channels. COFI parent leaders were part of the district’s policy change decision process.

A prime example of parent engagement was the public comments we received on the annual review of the Uniform Discipline Code. COFI participated in the process and lobbied for restorative justice to replace zero tolerance. When the district’s law department issued a draft of the new policy, COFI provided substantial feedback on the draft and helped shape the final policy.

Parents can serve as an influential agent in policy change. Between parents and students, the answers are there to help shape policy and provide guidance on effective implementation. The room for error diminishes much more when you increase parent involvement. That can be the difference sometimes between having a good policy and a great policy.

Ultimately, my career began with parent training and education; I know and understand the importance of engaging parents. My experiences with COFI confirmed my belief that parents are the most important constituency, and COFI certainly empowers parents to be engaged in the district.