Thursday, June 13, 2013

Start young, get parents involved

We support Chicago Public Schools’ call for parental involvement in education in its five-year action plan [“Byrd-Bennett wants to get CPS students prepared for college,” June 10].
We know from more than a century of work in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods that parental involvement is an integral part of the student success equation.
What Chicago Commons’ parents may lack in resources, they make up for in will and commitment: 100 percent of our early education parents participate in twice-a-year home visits designed to ensure that learning continues at home and complements school-based teaching. Another key driver is monthly parent committee meetings run by the parents themselves.
When parents have a voice and are empowered to use it, children’s lives are transformed.
Our children heading to kindergarten in the fall demonstrate that success is possible: 91 percent exceeded readiness in literacy; 90 percent exceeded readiness in social, emotional and gross motor skills; 89 percent exceeded readiness in the language and cognitive domains; and 81 percent exceeded readiness in math.
When we create a support system committed to education at every touchpoint in a child’s life, students succeed, and so do our communities and our city.
Betsy Altman,
Interim Executive Director, Chicago Commons

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Chicago Commons' Annual Meeting

On June 11th, Chicago Commons will host its Annual Meeting at Zed 451 to celebrate 118 years of service in Chicago.

In 1897 we opened one of Chicago's first kindergartens.  Today, more than a century later, we serve more than 3,000 individuals impacting nearly 10,000 families by providing child care, youth programming, adult education and senior services.

We invite you to join us next Tuesday at Zed 451 at 5:30 p.m..  Zed 451 is located at 739 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654.  To RSVP contact Erin Cross at or call (773) 826-3771.

Ivan Medina, Clinical Instructor at Loyola's School or Social Work will give a public talk on "The Challenge of Staying Mission Driven in Changing Environments".

Complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres will be served. Free shuttle service is available for pick-up and drop-off within the city.  Please let us know if you would like to use this complimentary service in your RSVP.

We look forward to seeing you June 11th.

Erin C.
Agency Communications Coordinator

Monday, May 20, 2013

Preschool Education Community Forum

On June 5th, Commons will partner with Catalyst Chicago in presenting Preschool Education: The Latest in Policy and Practice.  This community forum will feature a panelist discussion on emerging policies and best practices in early childhood education.

Panelist include:

·         Nancy Radner, Director of Illinois Policy, Ounce of Prevention Fund

·         Carlos Fortenberry, Director of Early Learning Programs, Illinois Action for Children

·         Nathalis Reyes, Preschool for All Teach Coach, Illinois Action for Children

·         Jan Stepto-Millett, Vice President of Early Childhood Services, Children’s Home and Aid

·         Cynthia Hill, Family Engagement Coordinator, Children’s Home and Aid

The forum begins at 4:30 p.m. and will be held at Chicago Commons’ Paulo Freire Family Center located at 1653 West 43rd Street near Ashland.

For more information, contact Erin Cross at (773) 826-3771 or email

-Erin Cross

Friday, May 17, 2013

Assistant of the Year

Assistant of the Year
Known to most as Bubbles for her bubbling personality, Ethel Watts was all smiles on Wednesday when she was named “Assistant of the Year” by Chicago Commons’ Home Care.  Nominated by her supervisor, Marketta Bryant for her initiative, quality of work and reliability, Ethel has more than satisfied her role as Home Care Assistant.
Clients praise Bubbles for her attentiveness and compassion in going out of her way to make them feel comfortable in their home.  Even to the point of purchasing cleaning supplies and d├ęcor to create a smile on her client’s face. She also ensures that the cleaning is done properly by asking her clients how they desire tasks to be accomplished.
Aside from her nurturing and professional demeanor, Ethel took a six-week computer course to help her locate additional resources for her clients. 
We congratulate Ms. Ethel Watts on a job well done.

Cary Crawford
Vice President of Senior Care

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Age of Networks

We live in the age of networks. 

An important survey of human services trends, Disruptive Forces, describes the need to brand causes rather than organizations.  Related to this is the growing importance of formal networks of organizations, rather than individual organizations, as the key to driving social change.

Chicago Commons has embraced this view of the world, but it is a viewpoint that requires a lot of skill in terms of management and organizing.   Networks can get messy really fast when strong leadership is absent.

Fortunately, Commons is part of some networks with strong leaders:  Pilsen Planning Committee, Humboldt Park New Communities, West Humboldt Park Educational Pathways, Chicago Benchmarking Collaborative, The Back Office Cooperative and Together 4 Health to name a few.  The future of Chicago Commons will be one of shared success.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Tie That Binds

Commons has had six Executive Directors in its 118 year history.  On May 7th, I am leaving to move to Oregon after a great 8 years as Director and 15 years of service to Commons.  The fact that my tenure is "short" compared to past Directors is amazing to me.   

I have been thinking about exactly what kept me here so long?  

The tie that binds is the historic, inspirational culture of this organization.  

In the words of Commons’ founder, Graham Taylor, this is a place that truly works WITH people, not just FOR them.  This is such an important distinction.  There are no hand-outs at Commons.  Successes are earned here.  

This is a place (a ‘Commons’) where people come together to make life better on an individual, family and community level.  I witnessed countless lives improved for the better.  And my own life has improved by sharing in the mission with so many other wonderful people.  The lessons I have learned here will serve me well for the rest of my life.  And I will always consider myself part of the Commons’ family.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Cutting Terraces into the "Cliff"

Mayor Emanuel and City of Chicago are starting to release information about the Ready to Learn initiative (which was announced last year at the Commons' Nia Family Center!) .

One of the first highlights, a new "sliding scale" allowing parents to pay for half-day Pre-K according to their ability to pay.  Sun times headline is that more affluent families will pay up to $4,000 per year for a half day Pre-K program.  But this misses the point a little.

This new sliding scale is a big step away from the awful "eligibility cliff" that is the norm in early learning programs for parents with modest incomes (see past blog post on the cliff.)   This approach creates a "terraced hillside" instead of a cliff that boots parents from the program once their income crosses an invisible line.

Unfortunately, this will only apply to the city's Pre-K program, and will not change Head Start or State funded Child Care programs (Commons' operates both of these).  So the cliff will continue to a big problem for many parents and many programs like Commons.  Let's hope President Obama's stated desire to create a more terraced approach will eventually move forward in Congress!