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Step Up and Focus on Local

By The Policy Circle Team

Policy Circle members are the type of women who answer the call. On March 23rd, five TPC women showed up and stepped up to engage with community leaders across South and West Side Chicago at an important pre-planning session to the Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity II.

“It was a great learning experience to hear from these passionate leaders. All of the participants gave and received from each other.”

– Barb Steinhauser, Policy Circle Member

The event was hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation along with Rev. Alvin Bibbs, Pastor Corey Brooks and Dwight McKee. The mission of the Jack Kemp Foundation is to advance the “American idea,” that the condition of your birth doesn’t determine the outcome of your life.

This was the second of three community-focused meetings the Kemp Foundation has engaged in leading up to the Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity II taking place in Chicago on May 11th with Speaker Paul Ryan and members of The Players Coalition. The goal is to support the efforts of Chicago leaders to get capital into their communities by:

  1. Bringing people and policy together towards progress on the issues leaders care about, and
  2. Enhancing existing relationships and information to drive more opportunity in Chicago communities.

The March 23rd gathering brought together approximately 45 Chicago leaders who participated in a four-hour discussion facilitated through a fact-based decision making structure. The participation of The Policy Circle women was crucial to the facilitation of a structured discussion at the individual roundtables. By serving as ‘note takers’  these women could then report the highlights from their table to the other leaders in the room.

What was clear, is the extensive and capable leadership that Chicago possesses across all of its neighborhoods and communities.

What emerged was various perspectives on some policy issues, agreed upon central tenants for action and five target goals that are ripe for action.

One issue that stood out was the varied perception of school choice. While some leaders spoke positively about school choice initiatives, the majority placed a priority on seeing improvements in the public schools within their communities. Having teachers that can relate to the students was mentioned as important to academic success and as a quality that had been seen as lacking from charter school experiences.

“The theme I saw was the desire for ownership within one’s own community – whether that is buying your home, starting your own business in the community or investing in the local schools and youth.”

– Joan Lasonde, Policy Circle Member



Attendees generally agreed that any activity or involvement must:

  • Foster  ‘own ownership’ in neighborhood
  • Involve parents
  • Include a system of accountability and transparency

Important themes that emerged from the discussion on how to best move the needle on issues of economic development, education and violence in Chicago communities, are summarized here:


FINANCES: Establish financial literacy & budgeting classes across every community

SCHOOLS: Recruiting Leaders into the schools with a focus on:

  • Articulating and demonstrating a vision – when you can see more, you can be more
  • Teachers who truly relate to their students
  • Strong role models that look like the students who serve as teachers or mentors in the schools
  • Counselors: need to understand how many counselors per student is needed to address trauma in the lives of these students

POLICE REFORM: Determine what changes the community wants to see included in the Fraternal Order of Police contract and then organize to make it happen:

  • Clearance rate has fallen from 70% to 17%. Used to be that crime didn’t pay, and now it seems like it does.
  • Equip all police with a mandatory, public Fitbit: incentivize police to get outside of vehicles, relating to and engaging with the community.
  • Independent financial analysis of the police contract.
  • Police should be more integrated in and involved with the community, for example: coaching youth athletic teams, arts and recreation programs etc.

COMMUNITY WIDE EFFORT – identify successful examples and replicate across additional neighborhoods:


  • Community Action Counsels – an example is Pastor Chris Harris at Bright Star Church who convenes key stakeholders at the meeting every month (Bronzeville – held at the Urban League – every second Monday at 6pm) to identify needs in the schools and streamline the process to get those needs met.  
  • Community School model – a successful example is the Skinner West Elementary School that is open 7 days a week due to collaboration with community groups and a local church that meets there on Sundays. And the Star Program which provides enrichment, nourishment and counseling past normal school hours. Chicago Hope Academy is also open 7 days a week.
  • Adopt a block – bring together all of the groups to provide full-service to the community


SKILLS TRAINING – advocate for something specific, such as $100 million in trade development funds to go to CPS with low college preparation rates (i.e. in school training) coupled with an agreement with trade sectors that they’ll take a specific percentage of CPS trained workers.

Policy Circle members often focus on local issues as well, believing this is where they can have the most impact. It all starts with your local organization leaders, local council person, representative or aldermen and being active in your community. This Civic Engagement brief discusses how to get involved right in your own community.

It’s a movement!

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The Policy Circle is a 501(c)3 that provides a fact-based, nonpartisan framework built to inspire women living in the same community to connect, learn about and discuss economic policies that impact their lives.  Women across the nation are taking a leadership role in the public policy dialogue on what human creativity can accomplish in an open economy.