Lena Kendall traveled 20 miles a day in Chicago traffic to take her son to school. Through rain, sleet and snow, she never regretted the commute from 91st and Ashland to Belmont and Kolmar.
Kendall’s situation is not unique. About 45 percent of students in Chicago travel outside their neighborhood school boundary. Kendall’s purpose for traveling was to provide her son, who has high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, with a quality education. “I drove for the purpose of my son to attend Intrinsic Schools.”
Intrinsic is one of 122 charter public schools in Chicago’s public school system. Nearly 15 percent of Chicago’s charter students receive special education and related services annually. Nationally, about 6.4 million students – roughly 13 percent of the student population between ages 6-21 – receive special education services and support every year.
Although earning Chicago’s highest “Level 1+” school rating, the decision to attend Intrinsic was a dubious choice for Kendall. As a former Chicago district middle school teacher, she admitted to being “staunchly anti-charter.”
“I bought into the negative narrative about charter public schools. I believed all the myths – charters take away money from district school kids, charters are unregulated schools, kids in special education are pushed out, and everything else that is told,” Kendall said.
“It was a friend, whose husband was a science teacher at a charter school, who encouraged me to learn about charter public schools,” she said. “Later, I came across a video of Intrinsic Schools and really liked what I saw and ended up applying.”
“It was important to me to place my son in a supportive school environment,” said Kendall, who shared that her son had been bullied in a previous school. “Parents know the difference between a good and bad school.”
Along with a supportive environment, Kendall sought a school that would offer curriculum best suited to her son’s needs, strengths and interests. When she received the acceptance call from Intrinsic, the opportunity for a new life began.
“At Intrinsic, teachers see students as people, not someone just sitting at a desk. Kids are held accountable for their education and that’s evident in the school’s student-led, parent-teacher conferences. There is genuine respect between teachers and students. A lot of high-fiving happens in the school’s hallways,” said Kendall.
Intrinsic’s classroom structure allowed her son “to get the maximum effect in learning. He received one-on-one attention, a cooperative and project-based learning environment that incorporated technology. And for the first time, my son said to me that he wasn’t feeling lost or missed out on what other students were receiving. He told me that he contributes to the classroom. He joined clubs and, during his senior year, tried out for drama which, for a child with autism, is nearly unthinkable. It was a very proud moment for me as a mom.”
Today, Kendall’s son is a first-year student at National Louis University. “When he graduated from Intrinsic, I encouraged him to seek a certification, but he had enough confidence to attend a university.”
“Student outcome is a proof-point regarding the quality of charter public schools, particularly among students who receive special education” according to Adrian Segura, senior manager of city affairs at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS). Every six weeks, INCS convenes a meeting among special education directors, case managers, and teachers from across the state to discuss programming, advocacy and other topics regarding special education services and support.
“There are some 64,710 families across Illinois who have chosen a charter public education, and there is a reason for that. Charter public schools aim to provide a range of options, so that parents can choose the school that best fits their child’s needs,” said Segura.
Despite myths, “charters are free, public schools that are innovative and responsive to the needs of students, teachers and families and held strictly accountable to high-performance standards,” he said. “Each charter public school has a strong plan for fiscal accountability and sustainability as stewards of taxpayer dollars, evaluated annually by third-party auditors.”
“Do not fall prey to the propaganda about charter public schools – not all schools are the same,” contends Kendall. “Charter public schools are high-quality schools, each with a unique mission and passion. It’s about doing your research and selecting a school that aligns with your child’s needs and strengths.”
Kendall advises families, who are navigating the Chicago school system to “stay engaged with your school of choice and be honest with your child’s teachers and school administration. Your school of choice can only deliver a great product when you are honest with your input. Also let them know what’s good, so that they can continue that quality and keep what’s working for your child.”
“It’s my deepest desire that children across Chicago be given access to an expert, dedicated and innovative education – the kind that is offered at charter public schools like Intrinsic Schools,” said Kendall. “Know your choices.”