This is the third story in my Northwest Side Hero Project, highlighting extraordinary people nominated by their neighbors as local heroes.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” - Mahatma Ghandi
Michele Taylor embodies the motto: if you want something changed, get involved and make it happen. She has lived in the Jefferson Park community since 2004 and has worked in community organizing, but found a very personal cause when preparing her oldest son for school.
“Before my son was even old enough for kindergarten, I’d meet parents and they’d ask me how many wait lists I was on… I was like, ‘what?!?’ I grew up in Waukegan where you went to your neighborhood school. It was so strange to me.”
When other parents saw issues at their local schools and looked elsewhere, Michele saw a need to get involved. Her first fight: class size at Ernst Prussing Elementary School.
“My son was in kindergarten and there were 42 students, one teacher, and no aide. I thought, isn’t that excessive?”
The school principal at the time told Taylor there was room for another kindergarten class, but there was no money. Instead of giving up, she went to CPS board meetings downtown for the next several months and petitioned for another teacher. Prussing hired an additional kindergarten teacher that December.
“It’s the squeaky wheel theory. If you don’t speak up, nothing is going to happen. Parents were taking their kids out of school and down the street to the private school. If I’m told no, and it’s the right thing to do, I’ll just find a different way.”
This confidence and proactive energy has been channeled into Prussing’s Local School Council (LSC), where Taylor has served since 2012. In that time, the LSC has tackled many more challenges than just class size. Just this past fall, Prussing had a highly publicized issue with CO poisoning due to a faulty boiler. Taylor and the rest of the LSC had to fight CPS for a new boiler after CPS thought repairing it was enough.
“It shouldn’t be this hard to get a new boiler. It shouldn’t be this hard to get a new teacher. But it’s what we have to do.”
Thankfully, her hard work is paying off. Prussing is a “Level 1” school (in good academic standing) and is continuing on an upward trajectory.
“Despite cuts from CPS, we are trying to make due with less resources. We parents are resourceful.”
Taylor’s activism and positive attitude is worth taking note, especially in light of the current state budget crisis and consequential cutbacks at CPS.
“As a parent, I have just as much a right to talk to administration as does a CEO of a company. At the end of the day, we’re all just people trying to do what we can to make things right for the kids of Chicago.”