Yesterday, the Chicago Architecture Foundation and Chicago Public Schools hosted an incredible meeting of minds to begin the process of redesigning public schools. The forum, titled “Changing the Outcomes: Designing Smart for the Next Generation of Chicago’s Learners” brought together leaders in education and public administration, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel himself.
The forum, organized by CPS and the Chicago Architecture Foundation was hosted by John Syversten and Gabrielle Lyon, of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and Trung Le, the founder of Wonder by Design and visionary designer of AGC’s Net Positive future campus. Many of Chicago’s changemakers were represented, including Chicago Public Schools, Hack Studios, After School Matters, the Public Building Commission, Chicago Children’s Museum, Greater Good Studios, TUR Partners, NLU College of Education, LEAP Innovations, DePaul University, Chicago Public Library, The New Teacher Center, Cannon Design, The Brinson Foundation, Perspectives Charter Schools and the Office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Trung Le led the day’s workshops, including an interactive exploration of the role of school, and a collaborative activity itself, during which small groups were tasked with designing a path to success for an individual CPS student based on a brief autobiography. Between these active workshops, a series of short presentations provided the group with a baseline or “state of our schools.” Leaders from CPS, including the Chief Facility Officer and Chief of Core Curriculum (Mary De Runtz and Mario Rossero,) shared their goals and priorities for the year, encouraging student-driven curriculum, 21st century skills of collaboration, communication and critical thinking, and the expansion of best-practice academic approaches like the International Baccalaureate Programme. As an organization that has been prioritizing and promoting these principles since 2008, we were thrilled to see this philosophy echoed by our partners at Chicago Public Schools. Providing further context for the forum’s task, Demographer Rob Paral presented research on the demographic trends in our city, reviewing the population trends of the past 10 years and looking forward into the next decade. With the exception of Chicago’s Southwest side, where schools are overcrowded due to population growth, and areas near the loop, where professional populations continue to flock, the city is in a period of population decline.
Mayor Emanuel’s appearance after the presentations was unexpected and deeply inspiring. He came to deliver a call-to-action to the group, urging the designers and thinkers in the room to “do something that we in the public sector don’t have a chance to do.” “Office architecture is going through a redesign,” he said “schools should go through a redesign based on what they need.” He called upon the forum to rethink space to optimize cost, ideal learning spaces, and teacher and student utility – with an emphasis on fostering collaboration and critical 21st century skills in our schools.
Following Mayor Emanuel, AGC’s Founder and Executive Director Sarah Elizabeth Ippel shared our school’s mission and vision for the future of education. “Thank you, Mayor Emanuel, for coming to introduce me today,” she joked. AGC was humbled by the opportunity to share our work to reimagine what’s possible in public education.
After Ms. Ippel’s talk, the work began in earnest, as each small group worked together to design a pathway for one of five real CPS students. The exercise illuminated the challenges and opportunities faced by our young people and led each group to develop a manifesto of beliefs about education.