LSC Representative Profile: Michael Cummings

LSC Representative Profile: Michael Cummings

Michael Cummings is a longtime DSA member who lives in Bridgeport and serves on the McClellan Elementary School Local School Council (LSC) as a community representative. Every Chicago Public School has an LSC made up of parents, teachers, non-teacher staff, community members, as well as a student if it is a high school. These boards provide input on budgetary, curricular, and some policy decisions at the school they represent. Chicago DSA is running a campaign around LSCs, and if you are interested in getting involved, please fill out this form. Sandy Barnard interviewed Michael Cummings about his position on McClellan’s LSC and how he has used it as a base to organize.

Let’s start at the beginning. How long have you served on your LSC and how did you end up here? What kind of seat do you hold?

Michael Cummings: I first joined as a community representative in June 2020, a few months after the start of the pandemic. During the 2019 CTU / SEIU strike, I was a picket captain at McClellan, doing turnout and reporting back to DSA labor branch. Being a picket captain, I got to know a few of the teachers, including a teacher who lived in the apartment above me and served on the LSC, and thus knew that there would be a vacancy soon. She asked me to submit my name, and it did take a bit of convincing, but finally I did. Because this was in the middle of an LSC term, I was appointed, rather than popularly elected. When LSC elections were held in 2021 I did formally run and win, though I did run unopposed.

Is there anything special or unique about being a socialist who sits on an LSC? How does your ideology play into the role?

Michael: The most important thing that socialists can bring to an LSC meeting is the sense of political clarity that comes from real organizing. We shouldn’t underestimate the fact that we have a political analysis of schools as a community space and public good. People who see LSCs as a stepping stone to run for a higher office, or to build a relationship with the principal so that their kids can get in later, are not going to fight as much or as hard as someone who believes in a strong and robust public education system that serves students, teachers, and staff. 

Also, and this isn’t necessarily unique to socialists, but the other thing that we bring as people who are highly motivated political actors is quorum. If not enough people sit on the board, or if people are elected but don’t bother showing up to meetings, then nothing gets done. Don’t underestimate how much socialists love attending meetings! It is crucial for a lot of local school councils! 

What opportunities are available for LSC members?

Michael: I serve on an elementary school council, and there is a bit less opportunity than at a high school to actually bring about socialist policy. Part of that is because elementary schools have much smaller budgets, but also because there are fewer issues to vote on – for instance, elementary schools don’t have school resource officers, so I can’t vote to remove them, as much as I would like to. But the positive things I have worked on include traffic safety and public safety during pickup and drop off. My position, guided by the political principles I have picked up from DSA, is that cops at pickup and drop off do nothing to make us safer, and there are a lot of other options to keep us safe.

There has been a lot of organizing recently at McClellan around pickup and drop off. What happened? How did you respond?

Michael: McClellan Elementary is on Wallace, which is a fairly busy road for the area. It isn’t a major arterial, but there is a bus route and a lot of car traffic on Wallace because it’s two-way and goes all the way through, and is surrounded by a lot of one-ways or streets that end up in dead ends. So for structural reasons, it sees a lot more traffic than adjacent roads. Recently, a parent who was walking to pick up their student was struck by a car. I don’t want to get too into it, but they were injured pretty badly. Because of that, the school community has a brand new urgency around traffic calming and traffic safety. The LSC held an emergency public safety meeting where we heard a lot of concerns and options. There were a lot of people who think the solution is  additional police officers in the area to get cars to slow down. A lot of other people suggested more crossing guards, which is a solution I like better, but there is a shortage of guards across the city. Then others proposed structural changes to the street like curb bump-outs or a protected crosswalk. The community meeting was a success but only a first step, and we are using that to pressure Alderman Patrick Daley Thompson and Chicago’s Department of Transportation to take action.

As an LSC member I don’t have statutory power like an alderman or a state representative. I can’t decree changes and just make them happen. But having my name on the school website, being able to say that I am a representative of the school community, has definitely opened some doors. I am a public official in this small way and it makes people more likely to talk to me when I knock on their door. And parents who don’t know me are more willing to engage with me on serious topics than they would with someone who doesn’t have a direct relationship with the school. But my power to enact change comes from my position in the community, not from the state.

What challenges and struggles have you and other LSC members faced?

Michael Cummings: Filling vacancies. At McClellan, there is currently a vacant parent seat, and there was a vacant community seat for several months last year. Luckily most of the other members of the LSC are reliable so we do not currently have a struggle with quorum, but that is only because everyone else is so diligent. If there were even one other vacant seat, we probably couldn’t do business. It is a little stressful to know that if you are sick or busy on a meeting night, you could be the deciding factor that means the council doesn’t reach quorum.

If you could give any piece of advice to a new LSC member, what would it be?

Michael: Something I learned from a comrade on an LSC of a different school: parents lead. Things go better, things have a better chance of legitimacy, if they are led by parents. Parents on your side acting as the “face” of an issue means you are more likely to get support from other parents and from the principal (who is susceptible to pressure from parents). The most successful organizing campaigns around schools come when parents lead, teachers stand in solidarity, and the role of the community member is to support the parents and teachers.

What is the most important thing for an LSC member to do?

Michael: Work to connect the issues at the school with issues happening broadly in the community and city. For instance, if enrollment is declining, then that indicates the area has insufficient affordable housing. If there is a safety issue at the school, like school supplies being stolen, then the issue isn’t “student behavior,” but structural issues of poverty. Traffic safety on Wallace isn’t just an issue of pickup and drop off, it’s an issue for the entire neighborhood. If we can shift the vision of the LSC to addressing things bigger and broader than the environment of the school, but using the school as an anchor point for organizing, then we have done something really great.