Parents have picked up the Jenks banner and are running with it.

by Pete Mazzaccaro

There’s a pretty cool movement afoot in Chestnut Hill, and it centers on a goal that conventional wisdom says is impossible: making the local public school a great school.

This is the vision of the recently minted Friends of J.S. Jenks, an organization that began this year with a campaign to create a music and arts program at Jenks. The kickoff fundraiser “Let there be Music” raised $8,000 towards a goal of $36,000. It was a great start for an organization hoping to put money into an institution that continues to be squeezed. It’s also a good start for an organization that likely doesn’t have the same sort of big-pocket parents and board members you’d find at area private schools.

Last Thursday, Hill resident Haviva Goldman, who is president of the Friends of J.S. Jenks, asked to make a short presentation to the Chestnut Hill Community Association to describe the group’s vision.

Goldman explained that her group was inspired by “How to Walk to School: A Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renaissance,” a book about a group of parents that decided to step in and remake their local public school in Chicago and succeeded. The challenges at Jenks, Goldman said, are probably not as great as those facing Chicago. She said the group is going slowly but is committed to steady progress.
“We recognize that quality public schools are the foundation of building and sustaining communities,” she told the board. “A strong public school benefits everyone.”

Goldman is absolutely right, of course. A strong public school definitely benefits a community. It can raise property values. It can make the neighborhood more desirable. It improves the health of the whole community, even for those who are not sending their children to the local public school.

What’s great about what the members of Friends of Jenks are doing is that they aren’t sitting around waiting for politics and reality to change (they’d likely be waiting forever). Instead, they’ve decided to tackle the issue head-on with fund raising, organizing and – most importantly – forging partnerships between parents, educators and community resources. Theirs is a movement that recognizes that it takes out-of-the-box thinking and actions to make improvements happen.

If successful, this group of local parents and partners will be able to make a huge impact on Jenks and, by extension, the entire Chestnut Hill Community. With better programs and a richer curriculum, Hillers will have another really great educational choice. It looks as if that ball is already rolling. It’s an exciting time to be involved in Jenks.

Pay attention: The Friends of J.S. Jenks is an organization that everyone in the community should support. Its goals are the goals of everyone in the neighborhood.
We’re all friends of Jenks.