Continuous improvement of Options Schools—and support of those students most at risk of dropping out of school—remains a priority within CEO Dr. Janice Jackson’s strategic vision for CPS, and our efforts were bolstered by Civic Consulting Alliance’s work to identify ways to improve Options Schools student outcomes.
— LaTanya McDade, Chief Education Officer, Chicago Public Schools


Chicago’s future is inextricably linked to our education system. Quality education strengthens families and communities, intellectually enriches our city, and bolsters our economy. Still, from early childhood education, to K-12, to higher education, many of our city’s youth face barriers to accessing the quality education all children deserve.

Our vision is an education system that provides equitable access to opportunity for all Chicago students and prepares them for lifelong success.

Specifically, we are creating an education system that provides:

  • High-quality learning for all ages;

  • Meaningful and responsive career pathways; and

  • A system of supports for the whole student.


  • Chicago Public Schools Options Schools

  • Universal Pre-K for Chicago

2019 Education Snapshot


Chicago Public Schools Options Schools

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) serves 7,500 at-risk students—in particular, students who return to school after dropping out or are significantly behind in credits needed for graduation—through 41 Options Schools. These schools offer students additional supports and services to provide a path towards high school graduation. 

In 2018, CPS engaged Civic Consulting Alliance and our partners to analyze the Options Schools and identify strategies to better support students and improve student outcomes. One key strategy we identified was the need for a comprehensive, student-centric process to identify, enroll, and smoothly transition students to schools that match their needs.

From June to November 2018, Civic Consulting Alliance—together with our pro bono partners the Kellogg School of Management—helped redesign this process. We: 

  • Defined the student population and criteria for entering Options Schools;

  • Developed a student identification, assessment, and matching process to ensure the appropriate population enrolls in Options Schools;

  • Revamped the enrollment process to address pain-points and ensure standardization across schools; 

  • Defined an onboarding process to ensure students transition to schools smoothly; and 

  • Recommended a follow-up model to create a feedback loop in the student matching and enrollment processes.



  • A student-centric process to identify, assess, enroll, and transition 7,500 at-risk CPS students to Options Schools


  • CPS CEO Janice Jackson committed to strengthening supports for students in Options Schools in her strategic plan, Five Year Vision: 2019-2024


Universal Pre-K for Chicago

The long-term benefits of high-quality early childhood education are well researched. For example, children who attend pre-kindergarten are 44% more likely to graduate high school. For every $1 invested in early childhood education, society gains a $7.30 return due to reduced spending on crime, anti-poverty measures, and education. Yet only 25% of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students starting kindergarten arrive ready to learn. Access to publicly-funded pre-kindergarten (or pre-K) is limited, and private pre-K is prohibitively expensive for most Chicago families. To increase access to quality early childhood education, in May 2018 the City of Chicago committed to universal, full-day pre-K for four-year-olds and expanding birth-through-three services for high-need families. 

In early 2019, the City and CPS asked Civic Consulting Alliance to help them achieve their early childhood education goals and implement Universal Pre-K (UPK) by school year 2021-2022, starting with two initial projects: Chicago Pre-K Enrollment Collaborative, and UPK Expansion Planning.

Chicago Pre-K Enrollment Collaborative

The diversity of Chicago’s pre-K providers—spanning CPS and numerous community-based organizations—is one key challenge to pre-K access. This fragmented network can make it difficult for parents to identify and enroll in pre-K programs that meet their needs. To help families and ensure that all publicly funded pre-K programs were fully utilized, in 2015, the Mayor’s Office centralized the enrollment process into a single online application for the city, and invested in unified marketing and parent supports citywide.

In May of 2019, when the enrollment period for the 2019-2020 school year was beginning and UPK was to be implemented in the first 28 community areas, the City was also transitioning to a new Mayoral administration. This put the collaborative effort around pre-K enrollment, managed by the Mayor’s Office, at risk of discontinuing. 

Recognizing this, Civic Consulting Alliance stepped in to help maximize enrollment in the 2019-2020 school year across schools and community early childhood education programs. From April through September 2019, with sponsorship from the Mayor’s Office, Civic Consulting Alliance managed the enrollment program across five organizations: Chicago Public Schools, Department of Family Support and Services, Illinois Action for Children, Community Organizing and Family Issues, and Vera Communications. We:

  • Facilitated collaborative planning, problem solving, and decision making across stakeholder organizations; and

  • Developed a marketing and outreach strategy and dashboard to better support parents through the application process.


Universal Pre-K Expansion Planning

In addition to our work to ensure families could access all of the pre-K services available for the 2019-2020 school year, Civic Consulting Alliance, together with our pro bono partner Deloitte, worked with CPS to scale UPK to a final 49 Chicago community areas. We completed CPS’ classroom expansion plan and set up project management infrastructure to execute this plan by the 2021-2022 school year over the next two years. From April through August 2019, we: 

  • Determined the locations and resources needed to add sufficient public school capacity for all interested four-year-olds across Chicago;

  • Developed an engagement model to include principals, community members, and other key stakeholders in the development of these plans; and

  • Built a tracking and reporting toolkit to proactively manage and communicate progress on the expansion effort.

As a result of these two projects, applications for City-funded pre-K in the 2019-2020 school year are up 30% from the prior year, and CPS will grow their full-day pre-K capacity by 63% (with 370 more classrooms and 7,400 more students). Through the work of Civic Consulting Alliance and our partners, the City is more confident and more prepared to successfully achieve Universal Pre-K.




  • 370 additional pre-K classrooms identified, to expand pre-K capacity by school year 2021-2022

  • An expansion plan and project management infrastructure to implement roll out of Universal Pre-K


  • As of early August 2019, 21,000 applications to publicly funded pre-K (CPS and Community programs) for the 2019-2020 school year, a 30% increase over the enrollment period for the 2018-19 school year

  • Capacity for 19,100 full-day, four-year-olds in CPS pre-K in school year 2021-2022, a 63% increase from 11,700 in school year 2018-2019