There’s no e m o h e k i l place education didn’t For one family, the search for high-quality Joshua Dunn by include a yellow brick road by Kate Floyd | photos
All parents have made a decision they think is best for their kids, only to discover a short while later that they were mistaken. For Cornelia Twilley, that decision came in 2007, when she pulled her three youngest daughters out of CICS Bucktown and enrolled them in Dodge Renaissance Academy, a Chicago Public School in the New West neighborhood. Although she had had a child enrolled in a Chicago International campus since CICS opened its doors 12 years ago—her oldest daughter entered Bucktown in 1997 and was in Northtown Academy’s first graduating class—Mrs. Twilley had several concerns that prompted her to choose a different school for her three youngest girls. “The real problem was this: It was the last day of school, and one of my daughters got a science grade for work that she said she didn’t do,” Mrs. Twilley explains.
“She and her friends were bragging about getting away with things they didn’t do during the whole school year. I heard that they were being taught social studies during science class and that wasn’t okay. As an involved parent, it bothered me that I found out about this so late in the year. I was in the Bucktown parent group. I’m always volunteering. I’m always around and I didn’t like not being told about things. I felt shaken up.”
Another thing that worried Mrs. Twilley was the introduction of a new program for gifted students, which she saw as a departure from Chicago International’s goal of offering high-quality education to every student. “If the CICS curriculum promised that every child is teachable, then you should see all of the kids in these gifted classes,” she says.
“One of my girls was picked for the program; it made it feel like a selective-enrollment school to me, and I knew CICS had never wanted to be a school within a school.”
Mrs. Twilley voiced her concerns to Turon Ivy, the director of CICS Bucktown at the time. Mr. Ivy may dispute some of the details of Mrs. Twilley’s description of events, but he was saddened to hear that the Twilleys were leaving. From his perspective, the school had done everything possible to get Mrs. Twilley to see things from another point of view. After all, his dream was for all Bucktown courses to become accelerated, and he had worked with the parent group to address their curricula concerns and establish a fair admission process for the gifted program.
Happy pare n happy studets and make good nts schools Though he had made many efforts to ease Mrs. Twilley’s concerns, Mr. Ivy understood that she was looking out for her children, and that he had to focus his time on the collective welfare of the campus. It didn’t take long for Mrs. Twilley to regret her decision. Several weeks into the school year at Dodge, her fifth-grader, Joanna, was complaining about her schoolwork: “Mama, I did this already at Bucktown.” Her other daughters had their own reactions to the change. “At Dodge, my six-year-old girl, Emma, would just sit in class with her arms crossed, frustrated by her classmates’ disruptive behavior,” her mother says. “She’d even tell the older kids to be quiet in the halls by putting a finger to her lips.
Right from the beginning, she said, ‘I want to go back to Bucktown.’” Worst of all, Mrs. Twilley’s previously wellmannered eighth-grader Jennafer was developing behavioral issues. “I never saw these problems in my girls before and I was like, ‘I don’t think so,’” Mrs. Twilley says. “Thankfully, my kids were getting good grades at Dodge because of what they did at CICS, but I saw them getting bored; they weren’t being challenged at all; they were coming home with little to no homework. The traditional public schools just don’t have what the charter schools offered. I started asking myself, ‘What the hell have I done?’”
Mrs. Twilley tried getting her girls back into Bucktown, but couldn’t—the school was fully enrolled. So she looked into CPS schools other than Dodge and was met with a different type of resistance. “I had neighborhood schools turning my kids away because of their good grades; the principals said the [typical students’] behavior alone would stop my kids from getting what they needed.” So she kept her girls at Dodge. Two years later, they were admitted to Bucktown for the 2009–2010 school year. Mrs. Twilley’s voice warms in anticipation of another school year at Bucktown: “My girls are so excited to be back at CICS now.” As she reflects on her family’s journey, Mrs. Twilley says she’s looking forward to volunteering on campus again: “I think it’s so important to get involved by helping a teacher in the classroom. At Dodge, they really didn’t like parents to be involved for some reason, which is a shame because I think parents should have that kind of role. It gives teachers more time to focus on the curriculum when you make copies for them, or do a little tutoring with the students. And when CICS teachers let me help out, it makes me feel welcome. Happy parents and happy students make good schools.”
“This time around, my goal is to make sure that my girls are on-point and doing what they need to do.
I’ve been telling them, you know that you’ve got a challenge ahead of you because there’s more work involved at [CICS]. They’re excellent students and we just want the very best for them. College for them is not an option—they are going to college.” And Mrs. Twilley stands firm on her expectations: “If they were promised science homework, I want to see science homework.” Mrs. Twilley’s involvement in her kids’ schooling has inspired her to pursue an education of her own: “I never got my degree, though I have built up some credits. I went back to school this summer. I got an A and a B, and I was just tickled pink. I want to be an elementary teacher now. I have a hunger for education and I have a heart for kids who aren’t getting what they need. Experience has shown me that you have to work hard with your kids. They put the time in, and you put the time in with them.” “When I went to a meeting recently about CICS, I was nearly crying to my husband, saying, ‘These people are fighting to educate kids like ours. When they say that all kids deserve a good education, they don’t know how much that means to me,’” she says. “CPS and CICS are two different worlds and I don’t want to cross into that other world again. I’m clicking my heels—there’s no place like home. It feels so good to be home.”
“I’m clicking my heels—there’s no place like home.”
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