Why my family is betting on Chicago — and its public schools

I am a Chicagoan through and through.

So when my husband and I decided to buy a house, it was only natural for us to look for a house here in the city. And that’s where we ended up — in a house in Irving Park three times the size of our tiny Logan Square condo.

When we began house hunting, the first decision we had to make was where to look. Immediately, we narrowed to our beloved Logan Square. Like most well-heeled young parents in Chicago, though, the thought of navigating the lottery-based Chicago Public School system had us second-guessing. Logan Square has one decent elementary school, and we did not live in its district. The school across the street was rated below-average, and we didn’t want to send our kids there. So we narrowed further to the area surrounding the one good school in the neighborhood but we just couldn’t afford the houses there.

So we did the unthinkable and started considering the suburbs. We struck out the far-flung ones such as Naperville and the like straightaway and landed on Evanston and Oak Park. While there are many good reasons to live in those suburbs — they are more city-like and racially diverse than others, they have excellent schools and even pretty good restaurants — we are just not suburbanites. We greatly value being able to raise our mixed-race kids in a city like Chicago, which has both urban culture and diversity.

But was our children’s education more important than our love of Chicago? I attended an excellent elementary magnet school here — Decatur Classical — that was located about an hour away from my home. Would my kids test into schools like that and, most important, did I really want that for them? Decatur was pretty intense.


We thought long and hard and decided we wanted to invest in our city. Most middle-class people with kids our age flee to the suburbs, citing the poor academic performance of CPS. Others break the bank to live in the district of better-performing public schools or send their children to private schools. For us, it’s more complicated. The two-part question that we were left with when we were making this decision was could families like ours with two educated, middle-class parents have a positive impact on city schools? Could our participation improve them not just for our own children, but for other children as well?

My husband and I decided that the answer to that question was yes. There are many examples of urban middle-class families uniting to improve public schools both for their own children, as well as for neighborhood children. I believe the more of us that can commit to that, the more we can demand excellence and help struggling schools get there. And after sending our preschool-age son to a neighborhood school for the past year, I think they get a bum rap — now there is evidence to back that up. A recent Chicago Sun-Times analysis of “MAP” test results showed that Chicago Public School test scores, especially in reading, outpace those of charter schools, which are a pet project of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The mayor loves charter schools so much that he has funded them at the expense of our city’s public schools. Perhaps more middle-class parents could be convinced to also invest in CPS if he showed that same kind of allegiance to our public schools.

While we won’t enroll our children in a failing school (we’re not that altruistic), there are plenty of good neighborhood schools in the city; there is even one in walking distance of our new affordable house. We also know that a school is not the end-all, be-all of raising intelligent, engaged children. The commitment of family and friends to the education and growth of children is powerful in combination with dedicated teachers that many neighborhood schools can offer. There are all kinds of communities to be had in a city, and we are in for the long haul.

Tequia Burt is a native Chicagoan and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Her day job is as the editor of FierceCMO, a digital publication targeted 


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Originally published in Crain’s Chicago Business September 2014

Why Little League International is wrong about Jackie Robinson West

Members of the Jackie Robinson West baseball team at a rally in Chicago in August.


By Tequia Burt

Getting up yesterday morning to see the Jackie Robinson West team stripped of its U.S. Little League Championship title was like a knife to the heart.

Like millions of Chicagoans, I cheered them on and rooted for our South Side team to go all the way. Even though the boys did not win the world title, to people across the city they still were our champs. Our boys were the first African-American team to win a Little League Championship.

And we all needed it—the black community, in particular, needed it. They won the title during a time of great pain, when black boys felt like their lives didn’t matter. They filled our terror-filled psyches with hope. We took a collective breath—our sons can be role models; they aren’t just criminals in hoodies stealing cigarillos. Then this happened.

And now they’re cheaters. Because, according to Little League International CEO Stephen Keener, at least two kids lived outside sanctioned boundaries.

Instead of being heroes, now they’re a “superteam,” fitting neatly into the narrative of black males as brutes imbued with superhuman strength. Innocence has been lost.


At a time when Deflategate is happening and MLB players admit to doping, these children are being told that they are learning a good lesson: Cheaters never win. In reality, the lesson they are learning is that cheaters don’t win unless they are powerful. Black boys are not powerful. And I’m pretty sure they are well aware that mistakes can cost them.

These children are being held to stricter standards than the NFL holds its teams and players: Even though 11 of 12 footballs the Patriots used in the AFC Championship were deflated, even though they are widely thought of as cheaters,the team went on to win the Super Bowl. No one is threatening to vacate their title.

While the adults in the Little League scandal have been appropriately punished, it still doesn’t change the fact that these children are being reprimanded for being successful. They were failed by their coaches, by the Little League organization and, even, by some parents. Yet they are the ones paying the ultimate price.

The Little League did not make the right decision by stripping JRW of its championship title. There are reports that Little League International knew that multiple Little League teams in the area violate boundary rules as a matter of course, including the Evergreen Park league, whose coach worked hard to get JRW stripped of its title.

If the rules were so important, why did the organization only begin the investigation after JRW won and someone complained and a reporter forced the issue? Eligibility should have been established long before any team played in the finals. If rules really mattered, this level of scrutiny should be placed on all the teams all over the country—from the get-go. The organization’s framework for evaluating residency is clearly flawed since JRW previously was cleared of wrongdoing.

The children should not be the ones made to suffer the consequences. Black boys are so often made into the bogeyman; let them be heroes for once.

So now it’s time to express our support, Chicago. We have to let these children know that they aren’t the ones to blame even though they’re being penalized. Let’s show the children in JRW that they’re still champs.


Tequia Burt is a native Chicagoan and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Her day job is as editor of FierceCMO, a digital publication targeted to B2B marketers.

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Originally published in Crain’s Chicago Business Feb. 12, 2015