January 13, 2023

A Note From CPS Leadership

Click here to view this letter in Spanish, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Filipino, Polish, Ukrainian, Urdu, or Vietnamese.
Dear CPS Families, Colleagues, and Supporters,

It was fantastic to see students and staff return to the classroom this week after what I hope was a safe and enjoyable winter break. I was able to visit several schools these past few days, and it’s clear to me that our community has returned energized and ready to make this new semester our best one yet. 

Our first priority, always, will be keeping everyone healthy and safe, especially with regard to COVID-19. Data shows that COVID spreads more rapidly when students and staff are gathering over school breaks, so we may see our case counts rise as students and staff return to the classroom. We strongly recommend taking a COVID test if you are not feeling well. Free, at-home tests can be obtained from any of our schools. We also recommend wearing masks indoors to prevent the spread of infection, and we urge everyone to stay updated on their COVID vaccines and boosters. Visit cps.edu/vaccinations for vaccine information and to make an appointment.    

Health Services For CPS Students
While guarding against COVID-19 is important, it’s just one of the ways that CPS is working to promote student health. CPS provides many health services for our students, including:

  • Dental exams, eye exams, vision and hearing screenings with referrals
  • Vaccinations that offer protection against many different illnesses
  • Assistance accessing health insurance (including Medicaid) and other programs that can reduce the cost of healthcare for families

Click here for a complete list of resources that are available to help keep students and families healthy. Families are also encouraged to call our Healthy CPS Hotline at 773-553-KIDS (5437) or email our Office of Student Health and Wellness at OSHW@cps.edu for assistance in accessing these services.

Help Us Highlight Your School
One of my goals for 2023 is to highlight more of the amazing things that are happening day-to-day in our schools, along with the people who are making them happen. It’s not just about shining a spotlight on our amazing staff and students, it’s about sharing ideas for great programs, initiatives, and events across our District. There is no better source for this good news than you — the members of our school communities — so I hope you will consider sharing your stories by completing this brief form.

Here are some topics to consider:
  • What events are being planned by your school to celebrate Black History Month this February?
  • Has your school received an award we should know about?
  • Is there a student, teacher, or other staff or community member who deserves special recognition for their actions or accomplishments?
  • Is there a business, community, or nonprofit partner or program that is making a difference for students in your school?

Help us celebrate your school in 2023 and show the world that the best are with CPS! Fill out this form so that we can share your stories in this newsletter, on our District’s blog, and across our CPS social media channels.

Looking forward to all we will accomplish together during a strong second semester!

Pedro Martinez
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Public Schools

Take Five with Waquantis Murray: Lunchroom Attendant at Otis Elementary
Headshot of Waquantis Murray
Take Five is a series that highlights some of the many CPS staff members who are going above and beyond for our schools. If you know someone who is making a difference, nominate them to be featured here.
This week, we are excited to introduce you to Ms. Waquantis Murray, a lunchroom attendant and someone who brightens the days of all the students at James Otis Elementary School. One of the first people Otis students see each day, Ms. Murray helps serve breakfast and makes sure students are well-fed and ready to have a good day at school. 

“Ms. Murray goes above and beyond to make sure every child gets a warm welcome,  a smile, a compliment on their hat or outfit, or some words of encouragement as they walk through the line and start their day,” said Otis Assistant Principal Rachel Mann. 

People have told Ms. Murray for years that she has a gift for connecting with children. She has been at Otis for five years, but her CPS journey includes more than 20 years of volunteerism. A mother and grandmother, Ms. Murray’s CPS volunteer work began when she started helping out in one of her children’s classrooms. While most of her children have already graduated and moved on from CPS, her youngest is a current freshman at Al Raby High School!

What do you enjoy most about your work?
Interacting with the students and seeing their faces light up when they come in every morning. All of the lunchroom staff interact so much with the children. We know them very well… we know which kids will eat what! Students come to us all excited to show us their grades, and they also come to us when they’re having a bad day. I have gotten so many pictures and letters and notes over the years from my students. I still have each one — I have them saved in photo albums.

What do you most want to teach your students?
Respect is my big thing. I want to teach all of my students that respect goes a long way. Respect opens a lot of doors, and when you respect people, they’ll respect you back. I also want to make the students feel safe at school, and I want them to know that they can talk to me. I want them to know that people are here for them and care about them.  

What are you known for in your school community?
My smile, and how I greet everyone every morning. Not just the students, but the staff too. I am always saying, “Good morning, we’re gonna have a good day. No matter what’s going on, we’re gonna think positive.”

What do you like to do outside of work?
I’m a homebody these days — I’m laid back and like to watch movies at home. I love old Disney movies. My top three favorites are The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast.

What’s something most people wouldn’t know about you?
I like to cook. I learned everything I know about cooking from my granny and my mom. I’m born and raised in Chicago, but everybody assumes I’m from the south because of my cooking. I like to do a lot of southern cooking, and I make the majority of my stuff from scratch: homemade biscuits, chicken and dumplings, and peach cobbler.
Winter Wonderland Concert at Schmid Elementary
Student and Staff Spotlights
Schools across Chicago finished 2022 on a strong note and are using that momentum to hit the ground running in 2023. Schmid Elementary brought its school community together to close out the year through its annual Winter Wonderland Concert. Students of all grade levels sang and danced under the direction of the school’s new music teacher, Mr. Cha’Ron Bradley, who has big plans to help students discover their love of music and the arts as a whole.

And the new year is off to a great start for Julian and Julieta, two fifth-grade students at Everett STEM Elementary School. Both of these students have inspired their peers and teachers with their willingness to collaborate with their classmates and aptitude for tackling challenges through creative problem solving. They are focused on staying motivated so the second half of their school year can be just as successful as the first half.
Garvey Elementary students pose in a group photo with two visiting HBCU Queens
A Look Around the District
Here are a few highlights from schools across Chicago over the past several weeks. At Garvey Elementary School, students were able to spend time with two HBCU Queens through a “Princess for a Day” event. They participated in interactive workshop activities that centered on personal development and social-emotional learning.

Some students at Phillips High School have been spending their time holding meetings with various staff members about changes they want to see at school as part of the school’s commitment to student voice. Through this experience, students are learning that their voices can directly lead to improvements that benefit their school community.

And, while the World Cup may be over, we can’t let the week pass without highlighting Clissold Elementary School! This school hosted the “Clissold World Cup,” which gave each homeroom an opportunity to learn about the traditions, cultural activities, food, and clothing of a different country. A highlight of the event was the door decorating contest!
Submissions Open Now for Multidisciplinary Arts Festival
Submissions are now open for PERFORMANCE SLOTS in the first ever RE*VER*BER*ATE, a free multidisciplinary arts festival for the CPS community in downtown Chicago on April 27–30, 2023. To be considered, submit your performance here now through January 30!

This four-day event is open to all CPS students, including those from charter, contract, and options schools. The event will provide students in grades pre-k–12 with exhibition and performance opportunities and workshops, portfolio reviews and audition workshops, Fine and Performing Arts high school fairs, and college and career connections.

There will be several stages and public spaces that will be programmed with the aim to provide the widest possible representation of CPS student performances.

For more information and submission guidelines, click here. The deadline to submit is January 30, 2022.
Opportunities Available from Girls Who Code
CPS teachers can sign up here to take advantage of benefits being offered for students in grades 3–12 through the Girls Who Code Clubs program. You’ll find planning resources, a student recruitment toolkit, and information on virtual events featuring technology leaders in the industry. See this flier for additional information.
A piece of fiber art from the All-City 2023 Senior Portfolio Exhibition
Needle felting by Izumi Phuah, student at Lane Tech High School
Showcasing our Student Artists
Congratulations to the student artists whose work is now being showcased as part of the District’s All-City Senior Portfolio Exhibition. In partnership with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and Design Museum of Chicago, this exhibition gives high school seniors the opportunity to exhibit their artwork and gain exposure among select colleges and universities. See a sampling of their beautiful artwork here.
Virtual Town Hall on Proposed Near South High School
CPS will host a series of six monthly town halls between January and June about the proposed Near South High School to introduce the project design team members, share the District’s engagement strategy, and identify next steps. The first meeting will take place on Thursday, January 19, 2023, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. You can register for the meeting here.