Gifted families in Chicago have a fierce advocate in Irene Gottlieb, who has mounted an intense push in the last two years for Chicago Public Schools to meet the needs of their gifted student population. “This is a matter of equity, and it’s huge,” she said in a recent interview. “People need to band together to achieve change. It’s not going to come from small numbers.”
Motivated by the frustrating experience her daughter, now 10, had with her public school’s reluctance to provide instruction at her level, Gottlieb began attending CPS board meetings, researching education policy, filing Freedom of Information requests (most of which were denied) and advocating for gifted students in CPS. Her frustrations also led her to found MAGE, Midwest Academy for Gifted Education (MAGE), a non-profit private school. MAGE has been blogging about CPS and State policies toward the gifted. www.mage.education/news
The bulk of her work has focused on pushing CPS to implement a policy as required by the 2017 Accelerated Placement Act, which requires all public schools in the state to provide early entry to kindergarten and first grade if the parent or a teacher request it, and to allow students who are able to skip a whole grade or skip a grade in a particular subject. CPS had no district-wide policy to address gifted children. A year after the state required schools to have a written policy, CPS had deferred implementing the law, Gottlieb said. One of her successes was to contribute to mobilize the gifted community to attend the two hearings CPS scheduled on drafting a policy for the law. “The South Side really brought it,” she said of one of the hearings, which was held at a CPS office on the South Side. “We had at least 50 people there.”
Gottlieb counts as victories the fact that CPS finally wrote a policy, even if it’s partial; expanding their policy for early kindergarten to match the early first grade policy; to allow for acceleration in any school, including the selective enrollment schools, and cutting the number of qualifying tests and GPA required to apply for grade skipping. Much work remains to be done, and people can sign up to stay informed or to help with the advocacy at www.mage.education
She encourages more gifted families to get involved, and she urges gifted families from outside Chicago to attend public hearings: “If CPS balks on this, then other school districts will balk, too. It creates a precedent for the whole country as this is the 3rd largest district,” she warned.
“The gifted are a minority. We like to keep our heads down,” Gottlieb said. “I get it—two years ago I was like that. But if you don’t speak up, no one else will.”