December 9, 2022

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, 

We talk a lot this time of year about gift giving, and I feel fortunate that so many of our schools have been the recipients of tremendous generosity on the part of our CPS partners. I feel even more enthusiastic about seeing our CPS students, families, and staff giving back to the community during the holiday season.
CEO Martinez sitting cross legged on the ground of the gym and talking with a student at Mason Elementary
At Mason Elementary, for example, our partners at Amazon provided students with surprise gift bags this week, each of which included a brand new tablet that will support our students’ learning.
Two students at Lane Tech's annual winter pop up shop
And at Lane Tech’s annual “winter pop-up shop”, students can browse for clothing items like jackets, gloves, and hats, all compliments of the Lane Tech Alumni Association and the surrounding community.
A student receiving a present at the annual “Christopher Christmas” celebration
Meanwhile, students from St. Ignatius College Prep also paid a recent visit to their friends at Walter S. Christopher Elementary to participate in the annual “Christopher Christmas” celebration. These two schools have developed a special bond over the past 20 years, and this is the first time since the pandemic that everyone was able to gather in person. More than 300 Christopher students filled out Christmas wish lists this year, and they all had wishes granted by the students, faculty and staff from St. Ignatius.
“Share and Care” holiday food drive at Courtenay Elementary
I am grateful to all of the partners who are making this a special time of year for so many CPS students. What truly inspires me, though, is seeing how much our students themselves are giving back to their communities this holiday season. At Courtenay Elementary, for example, students have been collecting food items for more than a month as part of their “Share and Care” holiday food drive. And at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, members of the National Honor Society are honoring their commitment to service by teaming up with Toys for Tots to hold a holiday toy drive for the children in their community.
Clothing drive at Sawyer to support newcomer students
Also, students from Owen Scholastic Academy are partnering with Social Works to collect coats and other warming items to be donated to shelters this winter, while the school community at Sawyer is hosting a clothing drive to support the newcomer students who have joined their school community this year after emigrating to the United States.
Clothing drive at Peterson Elementary
And then we have Peterson Elementary, whose Student Voice Committee collected more than 100 pieces of winter gear during a recent clothing drive. Meanwhile, their 2nd and 4th-grade students are working on a food drive for The Friendship Center - a local food pantry that serves the neighborhood surrounding Peterson. These projects are part of the goal this school has to develop community leaders through encouraging service and promoting activism.

Everyone loves receiving a gift during the holiday season. What I hope these experiences are teaching our students, though,  is that it can be every bit as gratifying to be the one doing the giving.  


Pedro Martinez
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Public Schools

Take Five with Hilda Castro: Children and Family Benefits Unit Coordinator
Headshot of Hilda Castro
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.
Meet Hilda Castro, a Children and Family Benefits Unit (CFBU) Coordinator for Network 1 schools within the CPS Office of Student Health and Wellness (OSHW). As a CFBU coordinator, Hilda helps families access and maintain public benefits such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Earlier this fall, Hilda was instrumental in helping around 45 families enroll in Medicaid by organizing a benefits enrollment event at Volta Elementary School, turning what can be a confusing and overwhelming process into a smooth and positive one.

In addition to helping families enroll in public benefits, a major aspect of Hilda’s role is getting to know the staff and families in Network 1 and spreading awareness about all of the resources and services that are available to them. Hilda approaches her work from a holistic lens, understanding that each family’s situation is unique and that she needs to meet them exactly where they are.

As a CPS graduate herself, the District has always been near and dear to Hilda’s heart. Before beginning her role as a CFBU Coordinator, Hilda was a kindergarten and first-grade teacher in CPS schools for almost a decade. She even taught at her own alma mater, Locke Elementary School. Hilda had the opportunity to experience student teaching in different school districts when she was getting her degree. Still, she always found herself gravitating back to CPS, and our school communities are better for it. 

What is most fulfilling about your job?
I was once a CPS student myself, so I value the opportunity to give back and help kids who grew up similar to the way I did. In this role, I can help CPS families better understand and navigate the system, and I love empowering them to access the resources and services they need.

What led you to transition from the classroom to a different role in the District?
I wanted to pursue leadership opportunities while continuing to serve students and families in a very direct way. But I do miss my students dearly. I am currently getting a master’s degree in education leadership at Northwestern University in the hopes of eventually serving in a higher leadership position within CPS.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I love trying new restaurants and bars in the city with my husband. Every Sunday morning, during our mandatory cup of coffee, we will sit down and pick a new place to try that day. Our favorite restaurant is Rootstock, which is near Humboldt Park. It has no reservations, amazing food, and an intimate ambiance. It’s a wine bar, which is perfect for my husband, who is a total wine guru. 

What is something most people don’t know about you?
I like to surf! I wanted to learn after seeing it in films, so I taught myself during a road trip I took with my three brothers to California. I’m not a pro or anything, but it’s fun. I have a surfboard now, but since we live in Chicago, it is currently functioning as wall decor. Any time I visit anywhere near the ocean, I make a point to go surfing!

What is your favorite holiday tradition?
On Christmas Eve, my entire family—all my brothers, our spouses, the kids — get together at my mom’s house. I bring the coquito, and we spend the whole day making tamales together. After dinner, we usually spend the night at my mom’s house. On Christmas, we stay in our pajamas all day and binge-watch Christmas movies. The top three we watch every year are Elf, Home Alone, and The Grinch (the live-action one)!
Staying Safe and Healthy During the Holiday Season
As the weather gets colder and families look ahead to holiday gatherings, staying safe and healthy is incredibly important. Cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are increasing, and both COVID and flu infections tend to rise as the weather gets colder, and as students and staff gather outside of the school setting. Here are some steps to take to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your school community.

  • While CPS is mask-optional, we highly encourage wearing a mask in school to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other airborne illnesses.
  • Free COVID-19 tests are available at every school; we strongly encourage students and staff to contact school administration to get tests, and use these tests before and after gatherings during Winter Break, and before returning to school from Winter Break. If you test positive, please report the positive test here and please follow the guidance here.
  • Being up-to-date on vaccinations is one of the best ways you can keep your family safe as we enter the winter months. CPS continues to offer COVID-19 vaccines, including the new “bivalent booster” that offers increased protection against the virus, at a variety of sites. Please visit to review your options and make an appointment. 
  • CPS is also offering flu shots alongside COVID vaccines at our four permanent regional clinics and both our elementary and high school mobile programs. For additional opportunities to get a flu shot, visit this page.
The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) has reported an increase of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases among young children in Chicago. RSV is a common respiratory virus that most people recover from in one to two weeks. However, RSV can pose very serious health risks for young children, including leading to bronchiolitis and pneumonia. For more information on RSV, please read this fact sheet (English | Spanish) from CDPH.
Help Us Feature Your Classroom, School, or CPS Team
Want to see the work of your school or CPS team highlighted in this newsletter, on our blog, or across our District’s social media channels? Then please complete this brief form to share your good news! Some topics to consider in the coming weeks include the following:

With the holiday season upon us, we know that many schools like to host festive celebrations and performances. We know that schools also often give back by hosting food drives and other community giving events. Please help us shine a spotlight on these and other events by telling us about them using the form above.
CPS Awarded Grant to Expand Mental Health Supports
Thanks in large part to Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Danny Davis, CPS will receive a $1.9 million Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant to expand trauma-informed mental health services for our high school students. This grant will support our schools in addressing issues of substance use, which according to the District’s most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), has been on the rise, along with feelings of depression and anxiety among CPS youth. This grant was spearheaded by Senator Durbin in 2018 as part of the Safer Communities Act, and is anticipated to impact more than 18,000 students, along with nearly 3,000 educators and families.
Kali, a student at Barton Elementary, sitting on the stairs at school
Student and Staff Spotlights
Students across the District have been hard at work both inside and outside of the classroom, and they’ve gained a lot of knowledge that they would like to share with other students across Chicago. 

At Barton Elementary School on the South Side, sixth-grade student Kali is extremely close to reaching her goal of getting straight As. When she’s struggling with a subject, she explains that asking her teacher and her dad for help has been key to helping her become more confident academically. She encourages other students to find a trusted adult who can help them both with their schoolwork and with other issues that might be taking place at school. 

And, at Hughes Elementary School in North Lawndale, Micheal is having an amazing year so far in fifth grade. He is thoroughly enjoying his math class, as well as physical education and working with computers and other technology in the classroom. He believes that other students should always remember to study hard and try their best in everything they do. From his perspective, trying hard and staying motivated are both qualities that are key to reaching your goals.
A photo collage from Mt. Vernon's Holiday Family Fun Night
A Look Around the District
Awesome events have been taking place at schools across Chicago! Mt. Vernon Elementary School recently held a Holiday Family Fun Night that focused on social-emotional learning. Students and families were able to rotate across different classrooms to participate in a variety of fun activities. 

This year also marked the start of a new basketball tournament: the Showdown in West Town. CPS high schools from across the West Town area competed against each other at Wells High School. Wells and Ogden International High School both finished the tournament 3-0 and were crowned co-champions. 

And, finally, middle school students from across the city took part in a Neuroscience Day of Investigation and Discovery at Bronzeville Classical Elementary School. This event took place through the District’s partnership with Project Synapse, an organization that encourages students to pursue careers in science and medicine.
Supporting Newcomers in Need
For the past few months, Chicago has been welcoming hundreds of new families to our city, many of them with children who are enrolling in our schools. As a district, we want to provide these newly-arriving students with resources that will equip them for success in our classrooms and beyond. 
You can lend a hand to this effort by participating in a donation drive being hosted through the CPS Central Office locations. You can support our newcomers during this transitional time by providing any of the following items: 
  • Coats
  • Jackets
  • Scarves
  • Hats
  • Gloves
  • Pants 
  • Shirts 
  • Shoes
Please note, all donations must be brand new and suitable for children ages 3–18. Donation boxes are located in the lobbies of all CPS Central Office locations (Loop, Garfield Park, Colman, and Bridgeport.) You can also make a monetary donation by clicking here.
Preparing for Next Year School Budget Process
Planning for the 2023-24 budget cycle will begin soon, and CPS will be seeking input from all stakeholders, including families, educators, and community partners. Specific dates, times, and locations for school budget forums will be announced shortly. In the meantime, we urge anyone interested in participating in this process to familiarize themselves with the Resident’s Guide to the Budget from the 2022-23 school year. This document is available here in English and Spanish.
JFK Library Profile in Courage Essay Contest
Submissions for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library’s annual Profile in Courage Essay Contest are open now through January 13, 2023. All CPS high school students are encouraged to submit their essays for a chance to win up to $10,000 in scholarship funding for college. This opportunity will also allow students to further develop their research and writing skills as they highlight the political courage of our elected leaders. For more information and resources, please visit
Celebrating the Cops & Kids Invitational Chess Tournament 
This week, the CPS Academic Chess Program hosted more than 100 students and 10 Chicago Police officers at the annual Cops & Kids Invitational Chess Tournament at Guaranteed Rate Field. A part of the Cops & Kids Initiative that launched in 2015, this event aims to create a safe space to break down barriers between youth and law enforcement while helping students exercise their minds.
Physical Restraint and Time Out Procedures
CPS is committed to using appropriate procedures to provide a safe environment for all students and staff. Click here to access a copy of our School Improvement Plan as it relates to physical restraint and time out procedures. Click here to view your rights as a parent or guardian to file a complaint with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) related to physical restraint and time out, and click here to access the form you need to file a complaint with ISBE. To view these resources in multiple languages, please visit the ISBE website here.
Special Savings on Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker for CPS Staff
Journey to Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair with Christopher Wheeldon’s adaptation of the holiday masterpiece. Magic is on the horizon for young Marie when a visit from the mysterious Great Impresario sets off a Christmas Eve dream of whirlwind romance and adventure. Enjoy 20 percent savings on tickets as a CPS staff member (discount excludes weekend matinees and price level 6; not valid on previously purchased tickets; restrictions apply). Go to to purchase and use the code CPS20.