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LeShonne Segura: Director of Development and External Affairs at Kids First Chicago

Kids First Chicago is on a mission to bring children and parents to the forefront of education policy. Their data-driven approach connects students, teachers, parents, and community leaders to ensure all children in Chicago are valued in the education system. Their work ranges from smaller, school-specific programs to large-scale city-wide programs. Learn more about their impactful work here!

Can you tell me about the need for your work?

We are a nonprofit that primarily works with parents of children who go to CPS schools. Our work is centered around grassroots data and policy research. We steward the facts about current initiatives and do our own surveys and focus groups to provide unbiased research that contributes to education policy. Parents are able to share their lived experiences about the issues at hand and we provide the data to back it up. In order for our process to work, we have to have great relationships with our parents. We form partnerships with schools, principals, parents, churches, and local community organizations to learn about educational issues from all points of view.

Can you tell me about some of the policies you’ve advocated for?

During the pandemic, we learned that many families didn’t have access to internet services for virtual learning. We partnered with Chicago Public Schools, City Hall, and Comcast to launch Chicago Connected, which provides internet services to households that meet a certain economic threshold. Beyond helping students access virtual learning, parents are also able to access curriculum and continue their own education as well. We took a major policy issue and turned it into a hugely successful program. We also were chosen by Chicago Public Schools to lead the process of redesigning the accountability system that rates schools’ performance. The pandemic made it difficult for the current system to properly function, and we took it as an opportunity to work with parents and partners to propose a new system that puts students and their needs first.

How does parent involvement affect students’ education?

There’s a lot of macro research out there demonstrating that parent involvement leads to numerous benefits for children. We recently hired a Chief of Data and Policy who will research this issue specifically when it comes to our organization’s impact on students long term. We hear qualitatively and anecdotally from parents that our work has helped them make better informed decisions for their children. For example, we worked with the district to create a universal application so that parents don’t have to submit individual applications to each public school they want to consider for their child. We’re able to offer support to help parents look through the facts, and we give them the opportunity to have a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions about their child’s education.

What is the best part of your job?

I’ve worked for Chicago Public Schools and at other educational nonprofits in Chicago, but this is the first place where I feel like we live the values that we seek to implement. I can show up as a full human to a workplace that respects me, values my input, and is a safe space. Creating top-down policy prevents those who are most impacted from having a say in the decision. We want to change that, and our work with parents is very human-centered as a result. I love working for an organization that is so thoughtful about how we engage with the community and puts humans at the center of our mission.


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