LOCAL CITIZENS RECEIVE CITIZEN INITIATIVE AWARD FROM
CITIZEN ADVOCACY CENTER FOR COMMUNITY ACTIVISM AND
BEING CATALYSTS FOR DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION
ELMHURST – On December 8, 2015 Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC) will recognize its 2015 Citizen Initiative Award recipients. CAC created the Citizen Initiative Awards in 1997 to recognize local community activists who are catalysts for democratic participation and use civic, legal, and community organizing tools to advocate for a self-identified issue of public concern. “Recipients of the Citizen Initiative Awards are those that have identified an issue of public concern and have taken it upon themselves to organize, advocate, and make a difference in their communities. They care about their communities and are engaged. While some government entities welcomed informed civic engagement, others are less inviting of those who stand up to the status quo and question government decision-makers, often being labeled as “troublemakers” or “disruptive.” The CAC award recognizes the essential and unique role these individuals play in a participatory democracy. Because of their activism, democracy thrives, even in the face of adversity,” said Ms. Maryam Judar, CAC’s Executive Director.
The presentation ceremony will be held at 7:00 p.m. on December 8, 2015 at Citizen Advocacy Center, 182 N. York St. in Elmhurst. It is open to the public and free of charge with a $10 suggested donation. Those interested in attending can call CAC at 630-833-4080 or email CAC@CitizenAdvocacyCenter.org to reserve a space.
The 2015 Citizen Initiative Award recipients are:
Paulina Jimenez, Villa Park
Ms. Jimenez is being recognized for her outstanding watchdog and community organizing efforts in Villa Park. Ms. Jimenez first became civically engaged when she became concerned about a marijuana dispensary proposed in Villa Park. With CAC’ assistance, Ms. Jimenez tackled wading through multiple zoning applications, learned how to read the village’s Zoning Code, acquainted herself with the nuts and bolts of the zoning relief application process, learned how to use public databases, gave public comment, petitioned her elected officials with questions and concerns, and advocated her stance on the application. Ms. Jimenez flagged inconsistencies between the proposed application and the village’s zoning code on issues such as proximity of the proposed business to a daycare facility and property ownership. After a long process, the Villa Park narrowly voted down the application, with the deciding vote being cast by the President. Ms. Jimenez’s advocacy made the difference.
Ms. Jimenez is also involved in creating an Art Center in Villa Park. Ms. Jimenez was part of a group who identified a need for an Arts Center in downtown Villa Park. She and other activists started a nonprofit entity to promote the arts in Villa Park. In the process of lobbying their local government to convert a former Post Office to the Arts Center, the group has used the Illinois and Federal Freedom of Information Acts to obtain documents to try to pursue the Arts Center. Despite the many obstacles before Ms. Jimenez and her group, Ms. Jimenez has been persistent and continues to work tirelessly to help bring art and culture to Villa Park and surrounding communities.
Ben Avery, Oak Park
Mr. Avery is being recognized for his outstanding efforts to implement policy changes affecting government contractors at the state level. Specifically, Mr. Avery has promoted equality for disadvantaged businesses in the construction and professional service sectors of Illinois through changes in policy.
Mr. Avery identified a problem with the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) payment system of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). Mr. Avery found that second-tier subcontractors were not being paid through state contracts, and there was no process for second-tier subcontractors to seek recovery. He contacted CAC for assistance in drafting the legislation needed to institute change. Mr. Avery successfully lobbied a state representative to sponsor a subcontractor equality bill so that subcontractors would be included and receive payments directly. A bill based on Mr. Avery’s policy change was introduced in the spring 2015 General Assembly Legislative Session.
Mr. Avery conducted outreach to persuade others, including minority, women’s and general contractor groups, community organizations, and other officials, to speak out to IDOT on the effects of discrimination on opportunities for DBEs and the efforts to establish a level playing field for DBE participants.
Paul DeMichele, Bensenville
Paul DeMichele is being recognized for his long-term civic engagement and continued efforts in monitoring many local government entities throughout DuPage County. During his early years of being civically engaged, Mr. DeMichele collected 6,600 signatures in two weeks to place a question for referendum on the ballot to save a junior high school that was on the chopping block. The community showed overwhelming support to save the school, and the school still stands this day. Mr. DeMichele has been a trustee with the Elmhurst District 205 School Board, with Addison Township, and with Bensenville Fire Protection District, as well as a monitor of activities within the DuPage County Board, DuPage County Forest Preserve, and Bensenville Village Hall.
Mr. DeMichele has also been actively engaged in organizing Red Ribbon Breakfasts in Elmhurst to promote the need for drug free community, a director within the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce, and a director of the nonprofit Life Education Center that focuses on substance abuse prevention training for K-8 students. One of Mr. DeMichele’s passions is financial accountability of the entities he monitors. Mr. DeMichele has extensively used the Freedom of Information Act to determine how public dollars are spent and has questioned public expenditures when he has identified issues of concern.
Mr. DeMichele also rallies other citizens to various causes through using community organizing tools and reaches out to individuals to invite them to be more civically engaged. Over these years, CAC has been a constant source of support for Mr. DeMichele’s civic activities.
Gaby Hernández Chico, Glendale Heights
Ms. Chico is being recognized for her continued dedication to organizing parents to advocate for children’s education. Ms. Chico contacted CAC about her involvement with the Marquardt School District’s Parent Advisory Board. The Parent Advisory Board (PAB) is an entity created to represent the interests of minority parents in the district with respect to transitional bilingual education, and Ms. Chico was appointed due to being an active parent volunteer. Ms. Chico questioned the process around the application for waiver/modification relating to transitional bilingual education, if children were receiving the bilingual education they were entitled to, and the limited scope of the PAB to participate in district decisions from the onset. An outspoken advocate, Ms. Chico raised issues of the inability of PAB members to place items on the agenda and her concern that PAB members were appointed primarily to support district decisions. Ms. Chico also attended meetings for the application for waiver/modification related to transitional bilingual education, spoke out about concerns related to the limited public participation in meetings and at a public hearing, and also questioned how the public was informed of their rights to participate. Many parents she talked with who were also concerned about bilingual education were not aware they had a right to speak at meetings or how to get involved. To educate parents about their rights and how to get involved Ms. Chico took the initiative and, in conjunction with Immigrant Solidarity DuPage, organized a forum at the library to inform parents about their children’s educational right to bilingual education. CAC assisted Ms. Chico by speaking about the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and the protections provided by the Illinois Open Meetings Act. Additionally, CAC assisted Ms. Chico with Illinois FOIA requests.
The Citizen Advocacy Center is a 501(c) (3), non-profit, non-partisan, community-based legal organization with a mission to build democracy for the 21st century. Recognition by CAC is not in any way an endorsement of any individual who is or may become a candidate for public office. Founded in 1994, CAC strengthens the citizenry’s capacities, institutions, and resources for self-governance. For more information about CAC or to make a contribution, visit us at www.CitizenAdvocacyCenter.org.
Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First St., Suite 493
Springfield, IL 62777
ATTN: Shelley Helton, Agency Rules Coordinator
November 30, 2015
RE: Comments to the Illinois State Board of Education Regarding Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Request for Comments on Proposed Amendments to Incorporate New Social Science Standards
To Whom It May Concern:
The Citizen Advocacy Center (“CAC”) respectfully submits the following in response to the Illinois State Board of Education’s (“ISBE”) request for comments on Proposed Amendments to Public Schools Evaluation, Recognition, and Supervision (23 Illinois Administrative Code 1) to incorporate new Social Science Standards. CAC’s comments aim to strengthen the proposed Inquiry and Civics Standards, which ultimately seek to implement the shared vision of the Illinois Social Science Standards Revision Task Force (“Task Force”). Comments are based on a review of the June 2015 Task Force Recommendations and the experience of CAC that provides unique insight into the gaps of Illinoisans’ capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. Such gaps directly affect the skills, knowledge, and desire of people to civically participate and their ability to be effective.
CAC is an award-winning, nonprofit, nonpartisan, community-based, legal organization with a mission to “Build Democracy for the 21st Century.” Since 1994, community lawyers have worked to build democracy by strengthening the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. For over 20 years CAC has addressed the lack of institutional civic education and civic illiteracy among Illinoisans, both youth and adults. While based in the Chicagoland area, CAC is contacted from people all over Illinois; from Carbondale and Springfield, to East St. Louis, to Rockford and Chicago, for assistance in overcoming barriers to participating in the local government decision-making process on self-identified issues of public concern. CAC also facilitates a vibrant youth civic education program that promotes and provides hands-on civic engagement opportunities, which includes a rich history of successful collaboration with a diverse array of educators, youth, academics and public officials. CAC was recognized for our experience in promoting civic education and engagement with CAC’s executive director being a legislative appointee to the Illinois Task Force on Civics Education. The primary recommendations by that task force to the Illinois General Assembly was a revision of Illinois Learning Standards for Social Science as well as the adoption of a law requiring civic education for high school graduation.
CAC applauds ISBE’s collaboration with the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition (convened by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation) and the Midwest Comprehensive Center at American Institutes for Research in creating the Task Force to revise the Illinois Learning Standards for Social Science. CAC found the most significant elements of the Task Force’s recommendations to be the many references to “active” civic learning. For example, Task Force members believe that Illinois students need “to live a life of action--to engage in the workings of our democracy.” CAC also supports the Task Force’s shared vision statement that expects “Illinois graduates [who] will be civically engaged, socially responsible, culturally aware, and financially literate [and] be civically responsible and environmentally, geographically, and historically literate.” This vision statement implies that Illinois graduates will know how to use the tools of civic engagement sufficiently to be able to apply them to any issue of concern they identify.
CAC appreciates the difficulty faced by the Task Force in ensuring that “the focus of the work was to write standards; while keeping the curriculum and instruction in the backs of our minds, at the end of the day were tasked with writing standards, not a curriculum.” In addition, CAC agrees with the Task Force’s decision to create standards that “allow for the diversity of each district or community to be honored and integrated into the curriculum” and that “focusing on information at the conceptual level minimize(s) the need for the identification of specific content.” These decisions honor the diversity of individual districts, communities, and teachers to develop civic experiences for students that will be most relevant and meaningful.
CAC overall supports the Task Force’s recommendations and the Inquiry and Civic Standards; however, some areas require further definition to remove ambiguity. Policy advocacy, administrative appeals, and litigation comprise a large part of CAC’s work. As such, CAC routinely must address problems of a policy’s or standards’ interpretation and their ensuing implementation when the actual wording of the policy or standards does not fully embody the drafters’ intent. The issue is particularly pronounced when the policy or standards are viewed as the ceiling for attainment, as opposed to a baseline, by those responsible for execution. The Task Force’s shared vision and intent is shared in its full report to ISBE; the General Assembly’s intent is found in the new law requiring a stand-alone course in civic education as a high school graduation requirement. CAC favors adding language to the Proposed Standards that leaves no ambiguity in reflecting the central tenets of the Task Force’s recommendations and crucial elements within Illinois’ new civic education law.
Recommendation: The Inquiry and Civic Standards for every grade span should specifically include an “action” or “application of principle” standard. Healthy civic engagement is a habit that has to be developed early, just like personal healthy habits like brushing teeth or exercising. Civic habits not made in students’ formative stages affects those students’ future civic participation. The Proposed Standards should consistently focus on preparing students to “do” civics and get directly involved in civic life so to create habits that carry into their adult lives to act as productive citizens in American democracy.
Inquiry Standards provide emphasis on principles students can apply as engaged citizens, such as active listening and consensus building for improving the community; and the Civics Standards provide conceptual content for application. However, within both sets of standards there is not a consistent emphasis on the need for action and or application of these skills. The only grade span in which an application standard is specifically dictated is Grades 6-8. One of its Inquiry Standard reads “Apply a range of deliberative and democratic procedures to make decisions and take action in schools and community contexts.” The same grade span for the Civics Standards includes “Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school and community settings.” All other grade spans (K-2, 3-5, and 9-12) are lacking the “action” or “application of principle” element. The void of an “action” or “application of principle” Inquiry and Civics Standard in three of the four grade spans is significant given the Task Force’s vision statement and emphasis on the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework where “action” or “application of principle” were present in two of the four dimensions.
Recommendation: Specific inclusion that Inquiry Standards are to be used simultaneously to Civic Standards. The Task Force deliberately created “Inquiry Standards” and “Civics Standards” to achieve multiple goals in revising the Illinois Learning Standards for Social Science. “Inquiry skills involve questions, investigating, reasoning, and responsible action while disciplinary concepts make use of social science ideas, principles, and content to pursue answers to the questions generated by student inquiries.” The Task Force notes that although distinguished from one another, “it is expected that [the Inquiry Standards and the disciplinary standards] will be used simultaneously.” As stated earlier, policy is implemented based on the specific wording used. To ensure that the expectation of the Task Force is effectuated, an explicit statement should be added regarding integration of the Inquiry Standards with the Civics Standards and other disciplinary standards.
Recommendation: Civic Standards should explicitly include reference to skill application within “school, civic society, or local, state or national government,” as appropriate for grade span, to ensure content development that achieves broad spectrum of civic engagement, as intended by the Task Force. The Task Force’s shared vision statement envisions Illinois graduates who can demonstrate “self, local, national and global awareness.’ The Civics Standards for the grades span of Grades 6-8 states, “Develop procedures for making decisions in historic and contemporary settings, such as the school, civic society, or local, state or national government.” Notably, Grade 6-8 is the only grade span that emphasizes the importance of school and local government, the places where the relevance of citizenship and civic participation is most palpable. “School” and “local” as a concept does not appear elsewhere in the Civics Standards yet are critical concepts that should be present within each grade band and grade span. The explicit inclusion of “school” and “local” throughout the Civics Standards ensures that teachers are aware of the broad spectrum of opportunities wherein students may apply their knowledge and skills. Additionally, teachers will be better prepared to develop curricula that may include educating students about the important role they can play within institutions, on issues, and at places that directly affect their day to day lives.
Recommendation: Explicit Civic Standard for Grade Span 9-12 Regarding Current and/or Controversial Topics, Service Learning and Simulations of Democratic Process. The newly passed civics education law requires for high school graduation a stand-alone civics course that “shall focus on government institutions, the discussion of current and controversial issues, service learning, and simulations of the democratic process.” As such, Civics Standards for the grade span of Grades 9-12 should include the following standards to ensure consistency between state law and the ensuing standards: evaluate or analyze current and/or controversial topics, develop service learning tied to the classroom curriculum, and develop simulations of the democratic process.
CAC believes that a healthy democracy relies on a balance between government accessibility, accountability, and transparency on one side, and citizen participation that is informed, active, effective, and sustained on the other. A democracy is only as strong as its participants, and that includes active civic participants on both sides of the equation. CAC overall endorses the Proposed Standards and applauds the transformation of the previous dry and dull standards into ones that are driven by inquiry, discussion, and debate; however we would also like to see the above recommendations incorporated so to ensure consistency among grades spans, reflection of the recently passed civics education bill, and more closer alignment of the Inquiry and Civics Standards with the overall intent behind the Task Force recommendations.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide commentary.
Executive Director, Citizen Advocacy Center
 Public Act 98-0301.
 Public Act 99-0434.
 ISBE Board Meeting Plenary Packet, June 17, 2015, p. 140.
 ISBE Board Meeting Plenary Packet, June 17, 2015, p. 142.
 ISBE Board Meeting Plenary Packet, June 17, 2015, p. 141.
 ISBE Board Meeting Plenary Packet, June 17, 2015, p. 141.
 39 lll. Reg. 13639 (October 16, 2015).
 39 Ill. Reg. 13642 (October 16, 2015).
 The Task Force divided the social science standards into two complementary categories: inquiry skills and disciplinary concepts. The Inquiry Standard is comprised of three of the four dimensions of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework. They are: Dimension 1: Developing questions and planning inquiry; Dimension 3: Evaluating sources and using evidence; and Dimension 4: Communicating conclusions and taking informed action.” The remaining dimension, “Applying disciplinary concepts and tools” is to be reflected in the subject matter standards, including the Civic Standards, but straddles both Inquiry and subject matter standards. ISBE Board Meeting Plenary Packet, June 17, 2015, p. 143-144.
 The other disciplinary standards are Economic, Geography, and History Standards, for which CAC does not have any suggestions for improvement.
 ISBE Board Meeting Plenary Packet, June 17, 2015, p. 132.
 ISBE Board Meeting Plenary Packet, June 17, 2015, p. 140.
 39 Ill. Reg. 13642 (October 16, 2015).
 Public Act 99-0434.