Yesterday's Chicago mayoral debate focused intently on education matters. High school students from across the city -- from Kelly High, Northside College Prep, Amundsen and others -- asked, among other questions, about the impact the city's tax increment financing program has on Chicago Public Schools, how the would-be mayors would keep CPS students secure, and whether they would seek an educator to lead the school district. "It's not an either or choice," Rahm Emanuel said in response to the latter query. "You want someone who's both a good leader and a strong manager." But Carol Moseley Braun insisted CPS needed an educator to head CPS, a person who would prioritize students rather than treating them "like so many widgets on a spreadsheet."
In answering a question about bullying of GLBT students, City Clerk Miguel del Valle recounted his own experiences getting pushed around as a youth. "We need to build a culture of acceptance in the schools," he said. Part of that process, del Valle noted, is using restorative justice programs to mediate between bullies and the bullied. Del Valle also talked about re-enrolling 17-to-19-year-old students who've dropped out of school, drawing them back with innovative curricula and by connecting them to issues bigger than themselves.
Gery Chico, the former head of the Board of Education, emphasized that vocational training was "an important priority for the next mayor," saying CPS should collaborate with the city colleges, community groups, and organized labor to offer convenient access to this kind of training.
There were no real dust-ups in debate, as the four candidates stayed unfailingly polite in what were mostly general answers and policy committments. Emanuel hit on familial themes several times, emphasizing the role of parents in kids' lives, while del Valle kept neighborhoods as a touchstone, telling the students near the start of the session that, "An organized community is a strong community ... It is possible to improve community areas but we have to have an agenda in the city of Chicago that focuses on neighborhoods."
The debate was broadcast on WTTW-11, and the Mikva Challenge organized the student questioners.