If there was anything to be learned in Monday's forum between Chicago high school students and the four main contenders for Chicago mayor, it certainly came from the students.
Primarily, we learned that so many of them are scared. They're scared that they're going to be harmed on their way to and from school. They're scared that once they're at school that a bully will do something to them. And they're scared that a teacher or security officer won't do anything to stop it.
But we also learned that they're selfless and concerned about the city as a whole. Air quality needs to be improved, the city's struggling recyling program needs to be expanded, and neighborhoods viewed as a "disgrace" need to be revitalized, they said.
During the hour-long forum on WTTW, the four spoke in broad themes of improving education, creating jobs and reforming programs and initiatives that don't work -- things any candidate could say to sound good -- but there was little in the way of program or policy announcements, detailed numbers or specific examples.
A few of the more enlightening highlights:
- On crime, Chico isn't satisfied with the current staffing levels of the Chicago police department. He wants 2,000 more officers hired over a period of time.
"Any of those funds that are not being used right now for what we think they are, like job creation, we ought to use those money to support police and send some of that back to the Chicago Public Schools," he said.
- On education, Emanuel reiterated to the students his desire to expand the city's teacher-training programs. It's a plan he outlined early last month.
He also wants teachers paid based on merit and reform tenure rules "so the best teachers are rewarded for doing well."
Chico said he would add two hours to each school day and add 24 days to the academic calendar.
"From my time as president of the Chicago school board, I saw that the more time spent learning, the better our students did," said Chico.
It was a plan that Emanuel seemed to be on-board with, at least in principle. He told those in attendance that a student attending public school from kindergarten through the 12th grade in Houston would be in the classroom a full four years longer than a Chicago Public School student the same age.
"That's just not right. That's cheating you out of an education," said Emanuel.
Del Valle said improving the caliber of teachers was a priority, and a way to achieve that is through continuous monitoring and evaluation.
"Teachers want a good evaluation system because, I think, most teachers want that feedback on an ongoing basis," he said.
Moseley Braun vowed to make sure that an educator was placed as a chief of the school system, someone who would "make students a priority."
- Emanuel and Chico agreed with a student who complained that the sales tax is too high and said they would look at ways to reduce it by include more goods under the sales tax umbrella.
- When a student inquired about expanding the city's recycling program, Chico proposed doing away with the ward-based collection system and moving to a "grid system."
"I figure that in the first year, we can save $30 million by doing that," he said, adding that it's costing the city money to have recyclables mingled with the trash and dumped in a landfill when that material could be collected and sold on the commodities market.
"That's a winner's strategy, and it'll bring recycling at no cost to everybody in the city of chicago," said Chico.
Perhaps del Valle captured the theme of the forum best when he spoke about student leadership and having them engaged in reforming education.
"We do not give young people enough credit," he said.