As one of Illinois’s oldest charter networks, Chicago International Charter School (CICS) brings a wealth of experience to its schools. Yet CICS’s passion for educating our students remains undiminished. With a unique portfolio model, strong community collaborations, and immovable desire to serve every one of our students, CICS is committed to greatness.
A publicly funded, privately managed charter school, CICS takes a portfolio approach to operating schools. The organization contracts with School Management Organizations (SMOs) that are aligned with the CICS mission, vision, and curricular guidelines to provide education services. SMOs are provided the freedom to determine the day-to-day operations of the school. CICS then ensures that the SMOs are adhering to Common Core Standards and executing their visions, while maintaining the right to change management if the SMO is not following these guidelines. Autonomy is exchanged for accountability.
The portfolio model has proven to be highly effective for the same reasons that charter schools can be advantageous over traditional public schools. As each SMO has more control, each can be more innovative, responsive and specialized to the needs of its students. Therefore, a diversity of educational options exists within the CICS network. No singular approach will be effective for every child, and thus CICS embraces multiple models that can work. At the same time, similar to what occurs in school districts, CICS works to facilitate best practice sharing to make sure that new and powerful strategies do not remain isolated. SMOs are compelled to continuously innovate and learn new effective approaches. Finally, because SMOs must demonstrate improvement in order to keep operating campuses, the portfolio model provides the same amount of healthy competition also found between traditional and charter schools.The portfolio model has become an exemplar for both traditional public district operators and other charter management organizations.
The biggest advantage of the portfolio model is the influence it has on instructional time. With responsibilities divided between the CICS central administration, SMO staff, and campus staff, tasks can be achieved more efficiently because each team focuses on its area of expertise. SMO staff can devote more time to professional development. School staff can give a large amount of support to teachers, such as access to technological resources. Teachers can focus completely on planning lessons. As a result, each student can concentrate on what’s most important: learning.
Concentrating on learning is vital for CICS, because CICS believes that every one of Chicago’s children can go to college when provided with this amount of backing. CICS prioritizes its students first, evaluating every decision on the measure of whether it will improve student learning experience. Examples of a student first mindset occur across CICS campuses every day: when students are called by name by more than one adult in their building, when their teachers can quickly communicate constructive feedback, when they can feel safe in their hallways. When students are treated as individuals, the question becomes not if they will go to college, but where they will go to college.
CICS seeks to reach as many of these pupils as possible. CICS operates a K-12 continuum, running schools for kindergarteners to seniors in high school. CICS has campuses all over the city, from Peterson Park to Altgeld Gardens. Every student, at every age, from every neighborhood, is welcome.
As one of the largest charter school networks in Illinois, CICS has access to a wide variety of programs and partnerships for our students to enhance their learning experience. At elementary school campuses, students have the opportunity to participate in everything from sports ranging from tennis, football and track, to band, to Girl Scouts, to yoga, to drill team, to choir, to cooking. Older students can join established organizations such as the Chicago Debate League and take advantage of programs, mentorships, and internships that will prepare them for college life and beyond. Organizations such as Pass With Flying Colors and Schuler Scholars offer college preparatory support to high achieving students. Future Founders inspires entrepreneurship by giving students a chance to develop business plans, meet professionals, and participate in a citywide competition.
CICS has also cultivated corporate relationships to further the educational experience for students. The Accenture Mentorship program pairs high school girls with female professionals. Piedmont Reality hires CICS summer interns, who create designs for their own building for a final project. In addition, teachers have the opportunity to participate in professional development with organizations such as the Chicago Children’s Museum.
For more information on CICS’s partners, click here.
Data informs CICS’s entire decision making process in order to guarantee that all of its strategies are fact based. While CICS is already devoted to making its data transparent and accessible, CICS hopes within the next two years to have all of its relevant data available to every teacher, student, and parent. CICS sees data as a tangible way to measure change. Understanding how change occurs justifies action to change. Data paves the way to empowerment.
Teachers will be able to see which classes are succeeding in which areas, igniting best practice sharing as teachers exchange resources. Parents will be able to see how their child is performing compared to state and national standards, providing clear areas where their child might need extra practice. Students will be able to track their progress, inspiring better performance when they aim for their targets.
On CICS elementary school campuses open for three or more years, CICS has closed the achievement gap in all grades for reading and in nearly all grades for math. However, CICS realizes that this success is not enough. To achieve the ultimate goal of providing graduates with the academic and social-emotional skills required to be successful in a competitive 4-year college or university, CICS is focused on college and career readiness for all of our students. CICS has set the goal for all of our high school students to score at least a 24 on the ACT. In addition, CICS has set the goal for all of our elementary students to be on track to achieve this score when they enter high school.
In order to accomplish this ambitious vision, CICS sets high standards for everyone within the CICS community. CICS monitors its SMOs to make sure that they are implementing a challenging curriculum and a “no excuses” atmosphere for our students. CICS provides academic after-school assistance for all of our students. When a student needs extra support, CICS is ready to assist them on every level. CICS believes aiming for excellence will produce excellence, and is devoted to giving each student every tool needed to reach this mark.
All CICS campuses have parent organizations. Parents aid inside school walls by working lunch duty and as teachers assistants. They plan fundraisers and afterschool programs. They host special yearly events during the nighttime where families and staff mingle in the classrooms, allowing each to gain a stronger understanding of the other’s perspective. They organize street patrols in order to ensure that CICS students are safe when they are in their schools' neighborhoods. They participate in advocacy efforts through attending rallies, speak at board meetings, and meet with legislators in order to work towards equitable funding. In addition, CICS has an Advisory Board with representatives from each campus. The Board discusses everything from campus news to legislative updates to network initiatives.
There are also organizations that are specifically geared towards parents. At one CICS campus, there is an afterschool book club called “Relaxed Reading” where parents read Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston while socializing. At another campus, parents created an annual “parents business directory” in order to celebrate and support the businesses within the school’s community. Parents also take seminars on topics such as understanding testing jargon and providing homework help. At several campuses, there are parent resource centers which provide access to computers and job search information.
In addition, CICS welcomes parents and community members to have a large role in the school’s opening. During the opening of a high school, CICS initiated the formation of a twenty-five member strong advisory committee that provided the community perspective during the school’s start, tackling issues such as safety, parking, and trash disposal. Before the opening of a CICS elementary school, several parents were on a launch committee that made decisions about school culture, helped prepare the facilities, and spearheaded outreach efforts. Before the opening of another CICS elementary school, established community residents formed a “street team” to inform their neighbors about the new school for the neighborhood’s children.
CICS has a growth mindset and believes that given a relentless desire to improve, success is inevitable. Our students have proven that they have this same tenacity to continuously strive for excellence. CICS has been able to change the growth trajectories of its students, accelerating their learning and placing them on a path for college readiness. Yet CICS will not be satisfied until all of its campuses have eradicated the achievement gap and provided every one of our students with the ability to be successful in college and the 21st century global economy. Until this point, CICS will remain committed to this goal.
Enrollment in Chicago International Charter School is open to all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or disability status. For more information or to download an application visit our applications page.