Our history






Putting parent voices at the center of our work has become a manifesto for how our organization approaches education policy.
— Daniel Anello, CEO, Kids First Chicago

Our organization was founded by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago with one clear goal: to improve outcomes for all public school students by addressing the broad needs of the education ecosystem.  

In 2004, as The Renaissance Schools Fund, we acted as the independent fundraising and strategic partner to Chicago Public Schools’ Renaissance 2010 (Ren10) effort. 

For decades, student outcomes had lagged far behind national averages and Chicago families demanded change. To meet the needs of students and parents, we invested $100 million to support 81 new, innovative public schools which spurred an era of dramatic improvement.

Over time, and to better reflect our work in supporting cutting-edge, high-quality school models, our organization’s name shifted back to New Schools for Chicago (NSC), a name that would serve us through an era of unprecedented improvement brought upon by significant investments in new options for families. 

Today, graduation rates are at an all-time high of 78%. Since our initial efforts, college readiness scores have increased significantly, and reading and math scores in elementary schools improved at rates that rank in the top of urban districts nationally. 

Despite remarkable progress, in 2015 nearly 75,000 students remained in low-performing schools that were not preparing them for success in college, career, or life. And low-income communities with predominantly African American and Latino families are disproportionately effected—an inequity that must be addressed. 

At the same time, we recognized that the district now has an influx of quality options, coupled with a shrinking student population. These circumstances mean that opening new schools will no longer have the positive impact it had during Renaissance 2010.


Most importantly, Chicago’s historically top-down approach to education created better options for many but also left parents uninvolved in education changes affecting their own children, leaving them distrustful and angry.

To achieve our vision—world-class education for every student in every neighborhood—we had to focus on changing the dynamic around education reform in Chicago and fully engage those closest to the challenges.

New Schools for Chicago relaunched in 2015 with a new strategy to place parents at the heart of the conversation and to shift the narrative to focus on school quality, rather than simply new choices. Today, we empower communities and families to identify, navigate to, and advocate for high-quality public schools for their kids with clear and transparent information. Then we work with parents and the district to shape education policy to better support families.

This design thinking approach allows us to forge meaningful and authentic relationships with parents, schools, and communities that will, in turn, transform Chicago’s educational ecosystem.

A core strategy of our relaunch was to create Kids First Chicago (K1C), a campaign dedicated to empowering communities and families to navigate the complex school access and enrollment process, and activate their voices in guiding the direction of Chicago Public Schools.

To build on our legacy of improving access to high-quality schools in Chicago, while also recognizing the natural evolution of our work, in August 2018 Kids First Chicago became the new banner for all that we do.

Together, as Kids First Chicago, we will create a world-class system of schools.