Dave Pitak lives in the Edgewater neighborhood, has been a member of the Swift Elementary Local School Council since 2020, and is the current chair of the committee. Per Chicago Public Schools rules about LSC composition, only a parent can hold the chair position. Dave is a member of Chicago DSA as well as 48th Ward Neighbors for Justice. Sign up to join the Chicago DSA’s LSC campaign as a field organizer, poll watcher, phone/text banker, or canvasser.
Which LSC do you serve on?
I am on Swift Elementary in Edgewater.
How long have you served on your LSC? And how did you end up there?
I’ve been there since about 2020. I had moved there [to Edgewater] just the year prior. And LSC elections were going on. And I was part of our local IPO 48th Ward Neighbors for Justice. So we were looking at local school councils and how to get involved. In being a parent and not a lot of parents being involved I saw a good opportunity there. It wasn’t competitive so there was that but I did get on. And so that was the beginning of my cycle. And it was an abbreviated cycle because of the pandemic. But that cycle is coming to an end these next few months at the end of the school year.
What seat do you hold on your LSC?
I am currently the chair. When I first started, I was secretary, we had a long time chair. And then, in that next cycle, he was looking to not be chair anymore. So I was happy to step up and the folks were supportive.
What is it like being a socialist on your LSC?
It’s interesting, I don’t shy away from my beliefs. That’s kind of one of the interesting benefits of Zoom is that you get backgrounds, if you so choose, and my [Zoom] background involves things like “defund the police” and “capitalism is a death cult”. So it is not something I shy away from. It’s interesting. It’s, I think, you know, not as common. Thankfully, we already had a socialist on our LSC. So that certainly helps. Maybe not as vocal about it, but socialist all the same. It gives a perspective and it is different for people, it seems like but you get the right folks in there, they are generally like, okay, let’s hear what this is about. And that’s kind of what I’ve seen.
What challenges and struggles have you and others LSC members faced?
The biggest one I’ve seen is, just the best way I could put it, is passivity where there’s a lot of go along get along and if things aren’t egregiously wrong, it’s okay. Just business as usual, but being in even minor positions of power, there is a, I think, a duty to use that power. And that is part of why I ran in the first place, is just a belief that people in power need to be using that power. So that’s something that I’ve seen a little bit of at Swift, but I’ve also seen growth there when challenged so I think a lot of LSCs have that potential that get people used to actually flexing that a little bit.
How have you organized your LSC?
It’s definitely leaned just because you know, baby steps, it’s leaned more towards activism. But again, baby steps, we’ve definitely done a lot of work around pushing the alderman [Harry Osterman] around needs for our school in places that he can help by calling him out directly as a group. We’ve worked with local school councils in the neighborhood as well, about talking to the [Chicago Public Schools] school board with not great results, but it is exercising those muscles and getting used to it. There’s just been a lot of that. And it’s gotten to the point where now, folks within the group are a lot more comfortable doing or at least starting with somewhat of an activist mindset, which again, is a starting point. So that’s been a I think the biggest thing I can say that I really push for and I think it’s been successful.
Could you specifically speak to how the fight around the crossing guard has gone ?
This school year, we haven’t had crossing guards since the beginning of the school year. Our principal, as far as principals goes, is pretty good. And he is generally supportive and his way of handling this is okay, well, I guess I’ll go out there and do it. So he has been a crossing guard when he needed to, so it’s really not enough, but he’s been the crossing guard since the beginning of the school year. But the reality is, it is the responsibility of the district of Chicago public schools, and their response has been basically, no one’s applying. To give some context, it is minimum wage. It’s two hours a day, one hour in the morning, one hour in the afternoon. No one’s going to apply for that job at that. So big shock, but their answer is, get out in your communities and ask people instead of actually owning that responsibility. There’s been a push of us pushing the board. We had a meeting with the board, but then also trying to push the alderman because I know there’s discretionary funds that he could potentially help with. And we actually had a situation where we all collectively reached out to him and got a response of “I’m looking at it”, emphasis on the air quotes. But then he reached out to our principal directly about the discretionary funds, implying “we can help you out here in that”. And so our responses, as an LSC was “how?” and “when?” and so he [the principal] came back [to the alderman’s office] with “how?” and “when?” and crickets. And that was one month ago at this point. At our last LSC meeting I actually explicitly brought this up. And our principal was very vocally displeased with our alderman about not following up.
If you could give any piece of advice to a new LSC member, what would you say?
If you don’t know your community, get to know your community. That’s, I think, the biggest thing. We’ve seen with other LSCs, where people, if they’re perceived as kind of outsiders trying to come in and change everything, there can be a blowback to that. And it’s just a reminder, not everyone’s a socialist, and you still have to get stuff done. So how do you operate in that space? But the biggest way is getting to know folks and the reality is that even if people don’t identify as socialists, oftentimes they’re going to share a lot of views with you. So starting from that and starting from where those kinds of shared values are and how you can help out.
What is the most important thing an LSC member can do?
Just be active, you know, be active and be vocal and don’t shy away from difficult situations and conversations because the LSC is literally the only democratic part of the CPS system, which is wild, but true. So even if it is a small chunk of power [it] is important, and we need to be doing everything we can with it.