Welcome Letter

Dear Friends,

“We’re especially inspired by Chicago parents, who have shared their struggles and successes with us during a prolonged period of uncertainty.”

2020 has been one of the most challenging years in our lifetimes. The pandemic exposed and deepened every inequity embedded in our society’s fabric. It is hard to find clarity and optimism when we look at the hardships that Black and Brown families endure during this painful, uncertain time.

Yet, steel is forged in fire. The crises of 2020 have also ignited a newfound commitment to meaningful and sustained change. Conversations around racial equity and healing are now in the mainstream, recognized as essential for a more just education system and society for all. There are signs of positive change taking root and being led by the City of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools, philanthropic partners, schools, and community partners. We’re moved by the strength, generosity, and compassion we see on the ground.

As we close 2020, we look back on what partners like you have helped us accomplish. We reflect on the days before a global pandemic hindered in-person schooling and look ahead to a post-COVID world. Most importantly, we thank you.

Daniel Anello
CEO, Kids First Chicago, and the Kids First Chicago Team

Fall/Winter 2020


In Programmatic Investments Driven By the Annual Regional Analysis


Students Served By Chicago Connected in Year 1


Community Partnerships Fueling the Chicago Connected Program


Parents, Students, and Community Members Directly Engaged

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We often talk about the opportunity gap. but access helps to close that, because now it’s within their reach.

—Peggie Burnett-Wise, Principal, Morton School of Excellence

Section 1

Community & Family Partnerships

Parents gather for free enrollment support.

Kids First Chicago believes that those closest to students – families and community members – are best equipped to design policies and systems that will improve educational equity and lead to stronger outcomes for our students, our communities, and our city.

Focused in West and South Side communities, our strong relationships with parents, community-based organizations, schools, and neighborhood leaders have catalyzed critical wins for students and families.

With each victory and through the ongoing development we provide on key education issues, K1C-supported community leaders learn how to activate their power to advocate for their own school communities and collaborate on larger community- and city-wide issues.

Over the last two years, we’ve organized communities and families around several education wins:

Annual Regional Analysis (ARA). In partnership with CPS, K1C produced three installments of a new universal fact base on all PK-12 students in all 650+ schools. This provides community members with transparent information about their schools and enables CPS to make data-driven decisions about programmatic investments across the city. The ARA spurred a total of $50 million invested in 54 schools that the data showed needed it most.

Michele Clark H.S. IB Program. We provided data insights, advocacy training, and technical assistance to support a community proposal for the West Side’s first high school International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Michele Clark High School in Austin. Clark is now the first combined public STEM-IB program in the city’s history.

Morton Elementary Regional Gifted Center. We generated community interest for a new regional gifted program at Morton School of Excellence in East Garfield Park. Morton became the West Side’s first regional gifted program as part of CPS’s $18 million programmatic investment in June 2020.

Penn Elementary New Playground and Bathrooms. K1C supported parent-led organizing around vital facilities upgrades for this North Lawndale elementary school.

Community Hubs. We promoted a viable plan to reimagine under-utilized schools as community hubs, a parent-driven concept articulated in both North Lawndale and Austin’s Quality of Life plans and West Side United’s education plan.

Back of the Yards High School Library. K1C parent champions advocated for the creation of a standalone library for this high school on the Southwest Side. As a result, $15 million in state funding has been awarded to build a new library.



Parent Advisory Board Members From the South and West Sides


Parents, Students, and Community Members Directly Engaged


Articles, Letters to the Editor, and Interviews Published Featuring Parent Voice and Perspective

How the ARA Guides

Program Investments

In 2019 and 2020, the Annual Regional Analysis (ARA) spurred CPS to invest $50 million in 54 schools to enhance their academic program offerings. These investments significantly increased variety and availability in key regions where students previously had to travel nearly 3+ miles to access these programs at schools in other community areas.

Our Digital School Search Tool

How Kids First uses Parent Feedback and Data to Improve Tools Over Time


In Fall 2016, Kids First Chicago launched our first School Search tool, designed to support community engagement coordinators in assisting families to navigate Chicago’s school enrollment process. At the time, CPS offered 172 high schools with nearly 500 program choices, but no centralized enrollment system – which made it difficult to research and access schools that were both high-quality and a good fit.

Since then, we’ve used parent feedback to evolve the tool. In our second iteration—School Search 2.0—we used parent feedback and user data to prioritize new features, like the ability to compare, save, and print schools. We also added a Spanish version.

In Spring 2017, the Chicago Board of Education approved a single application, GoCPS, for high schools. In Fall 2017, we continued to work directly with families using the School Search 2.0 tool alongside GoCPS.

By 2018, we needed to revise our search tool drastically to meet parents’ evolving needs, including more information about CPS’s school measurement system, a more mobile-friendly tool, and a more detailed school profile that wasn’t duplicative of CPS’s resources.

We created a prototype that included high-priority new features and tested it with 120 parents and teachers.

Respondents emphasized the need for simplicity and accessibility: we needed to present information in a clear way without educational jargon, show school ratings in context, and ensure that the tool was usable even for parents without technological savvy.


After nearly a year of prototyping, designing, and building, Kids First Chicago launched our School Search 3.0 tool in the fall of 2019.

It includes updated features and much more detailed school performance history information as compared to previous versions of the tool.


  • Enhanced filters and search
  • Mobile- and desktop-friendly
  • Enhanced Compare tool
  • Profile for each school
  • Improved Dual Language functions
  • Detailed information on a school’s performance on SQRP metrics both annually and over time
  • Additional help/support videos & resources to help parents understand SQRP broadly
  • A pop-up “tour” that demonstrates how to navigate the tool and its unique features
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No student or family should be cut off...especially at this moment when our devices have become our classrooms, doctors’ offices, and more.

—Barbara Goodman Manilow , Crown Family Philanthropies’, Board Chair

K1C Parent Advisory Board Member Claiborne Wade with his family. Photo courtesy of Chicago Connected program

Chicago Connected: Bridging the Digital Divide


When Chicago’s public schools closed in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kids First Chicago team immediately pivoted to do what we do best: ask families what they need.

We spoke to hundreds of parents, learning their concerns about access to basic needs and quality education. We also heard firsthand how deep the digital divide was for our most vulnerable communities and families.

True to our data-driven model, we dug deeper and found that 110,000 Chicago kids in 60,000 households do not have access to broadband.

While learning in CPS had moved online amidst COVID-19, 1 in 5 kids in Chicago couldn’t participate simply because they don’t have reliable in-home internet access.

We released an issue brief, Digital Equity in the Coronavirus Era, in partnership with the Metropolitan Planning Council. It featured the stories of several parents, including those who were making the impossible choice between paying for food for their kids or paying for internet access.


To ameliorate these serious concerns from families, we partnered with the City of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools, philanthropists, and Internet Service Providers to champion a long-term sustainable solution.

On June 25, 2020, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Chicago Connected—a groundbreaking multi-year partnership to close Chicago’s digital divide and ensure that 100,000 eligible CPS students and 60,000 households have access to the internet and remote learning. This program is the largest and longest-term in the country, and has been lauded as a national model for closing the digital divide.

In launching Chicago Connected, the City of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools, and the city’s philanthropic community have made a historic commitment to eliminating internet access as a barrier to digital learning.

Kids First Chicago leads the core implementation of Chicago Connected and manages relationships with 35 community-based partners across the city, helping to engage hard-to-reach families and ensuring they are set up for successful connections.


Students without Internet

1 out of 5

Students without Access to Internet

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Students miss their classrooms, their teachers—every student needs dedicated time to just talk to their friends and check in with their teachers about something other than math. We have to make time for this in remote learning, too, because it is part of what school does that keeps our kids healthy.

—Focus Group Parent

Parent Advisory Board members volunteer their time at a Kids First Chicago event.

Section 3

Looking Ahead: Education Recovery

Parent-Led Solutions To
Education Recovery

Our Parent Advisory Board hosted 16 formal focus groups throughout July 2020, reaching 163 parents. The focus group participants shared what families need for effective learning during this prolonged crisis. Four of these focus groups were held in Spanish, and two were specifically aimed at parents of diverse learners.

During these in-depth sessions, parents and caregivers shared their difficulties and successes with remote learning, their hopes and concerns about sending their children back to school in the fall, and their priorities to recover lost education time. Most of all, parents shared strategies and solutions to ensure that remote learning is effective, return-to-school is safe, and education recovery is equitable for all students.

We compiled their recommendations into a brief, Parent-Led Solutions for Education Recovery. This report provides a jumping-off point for school, district, city, and state leadership to engage further with parents. Together, as co-creators, they can design plans to ensure that their children’s needs are met throughout this unusual school year.

Our engagement with families does not stop here. We know that the 2020-2021 School Year will continue to be unlike any other. Most importantly, we know that students, families, educators, and schools face serious challenges as we all work to recover education lost during this ongoing pandemic.

Children have missed out on learning and access to remote instruction has been inequitable and, at times, ineffective.

Explore their recommendations and insights by selecting “learn more” below.