The History of ISECC

The Illinois General Assembly amended the Illinois School Code

In 1996, the Illinois General Assembly amended the Illinois School Code and approved the creation of 45 charter schools in Illinois, allotting fifteen in Chicago; fifteen in the suburbs; and fifteen downstate. The law intended to provide parents, teachers, and community members a process within the public school system, to create innovative means of educating children. Organizations aspiring to establish a charter school needed to apply for the charter through the local school district, which granted or denied the application. The first Illinois Charter School opened in 1997. By 2009, the legislature increased the cap on the number of charter schools throughout the state to 120. At the same time, Mayor Daley launched Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 plan, which proposed closing dozens of poorly performing Chicago public schools and creating new ones, most of them charter schools.

Beginning of Illinois Charter Commission

In 2011, the General Assembly established the Illinois State Charter School Commission, an independent, appointed group within the State Board of Education. The Commission was authorized to hear appeals from charter organizations and, in some cases, reversed decisions of local school districts, including Chicago. The nine Commission-Authorized Charter Schools were ACE Amandla, Betty Shabazz, Bronzeville Academy, Elgin Math & Science Academy, Horizon Science Academy-Belmont Charter School, Horizon Science Academy- McKinley Park Charter School, Learn 9, Prairie Crossing, and Southland College Prep.
State Recognizes A Need for a Special Education Cooperative to Serve Charter Schools

When Charter Schools began in Chicago, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) provided services for special education students. 

However, as a result of Corey H. v. Board of Educ. of the City of Chicago, 995 F. Supp. 900 (N.D. Ill. 1998) students with disabilities were given equal access to the magnet, vocational, charter, and gifted programs. Consequently, CPS changed its procedures, and Charter Schools were informed that they had to provide their special education services and manage the special education funding. Charter Schools were not large enough to ensure all the needed services to students with special needs.

Therefore, Charter Schools hired their Directors of Special Education or shared Directors’ services with other Charter Schools. Some Charter Schools began to research forming a Special Education Cooperative.

Under the leadership of Shenita Johnson, Deputy Director of the Illinois State Charter School Commission, and Robbie Curry, Director of Portfolio Performance, there were multiple attempts by Charter Schools to create a special education cooperative.

However, none of those efforts were successful, and Charter Schools continued sharing Director of Special Education services.

The State put forth a Request for Qualifications which sought submissions from individuals or groups qualified to lead and manage the formation of a Special Education Cooperative pursuant to Illinois School Code, 105 ILCS 5/14-4.01. The State of Illinois approved an RFP submitted by C&H Educational Consultants Dr. James (Jay) Cunneen and Dr. Kathleen Hickey. 

As of July 1, 2020, Public Act 101-0543 abolished the Illinois State Charter School Commission and transferred the existing charters under their authority to the Illinois State Board of Education. 

As the authorizer for these schools, the State Board is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Illinois Charter Schools Law and their charter agreements which includes monitoring special education compliance, academic performance, fiscal health, organizational governance, and renewal of charter agreements.  

On July 7, 2020, Directors of Special Education were notified of new requirements for a Director of Special Education. As a result, each charter school would be required to employ a full-time director of special education who would serve as the chief administrative officer of the special education programs and services.

Anticipating this requirement,  Ace Amandla Charter School; Betty Shabazz International Charter School; Barbara A. Sizemore Charter School; Bronzeville Academy Charter School; Horizon Science Academy-Belmont Charter School; and Horizon Science Academy- McKinley Park Charter School endeavored to combine and leverage resources by forming a Special Education Cooperative to best meet the needs of their students with special needs and worked with C&H.

The C&H team was led by Dr. Jay Cunneen, Dr. Kathleen Hickey, and Dr. Kathy Horvath, a specialist in special education. Attorneys Maureen A. Lemon and Joseph Miller III from  Ottosen DiNolfo Hasenbalg & Castaldo, Ltd, and Eric S. Grodsky from Hauser, Izzo, Petrarca, Gleason & Stillman were engaged in the project. Principals engaged in the project were Serdar Kartal, Cafer Cengiz, Turon Ivy, Amanda Nagel, and Seat Vedziovski. Others who worked on the project were David Disli, Heather Erickson, Dr. Makita Kheperu, Dr. Otis Taylor, Jocelyn Stone, Emily Barnes, Mr. Magnum, Dr. Dionte Jimeson, Baba Roosevelt, Marylyn Scott, Shaleah Blackshear, Mama Bell Anderson, Ashley Treadwell-Wilson, and Anthony Daniels. Vivian (Sue) Taylor, one of the Illinois State Board of Education Principal Consultants for Special Education Services, provided guidance and encouragement in the efforts to write a Joint Agreement and Comprehensive Plan. 

Before ISBE approval by the Advisory Council on the Education of Children with Disabilities, formerly known as the Illinois State Advisory Council (ISAC),  Betty Shabazz International Charter School; Barbara A. Sizemore Charter School; and Bronzeville Academy Charter School withdrew from the process. 

Historic Event-The First Special Education Cooperative to Serve Children Attending Charter Schools

On February 11, 2021, the team received notice that the Advisory Council on the Education of Children with Disabilities approved the Joint Agreement and Comprehensive Plan of the Illinois Special Education Charter Cooperative (ISECC), making history as the first special education cooperative serving children from charter schools. ISECC had permission to begin functioning as a special education cooperative beginning July 1, 2021, with the first year as a year of probation. The first Executive Board was formed as members recited the Oath of Office, with Serdar Kartal serving as Chairperson and Amanda Nagel serving as Vice-Chairperson. The first ISECC Governing Board was formed as members recited the Oath of Office, with Serdar Gurses serving as President, Hosanna Mahaley serving as Treasurer, and Stephanie Gladden serving as Governing Board Secretary. Ace Amandla was approved as the site for the office of the Executive Director of Special Education, and the Board approved the 80% regular/20% special education as the proportion for administrative fees for FY 2022, along with an Amendment to the Withdrawal Provision of the Joint Agreement. Eric Grodsky was appointed as Attorney, and C&H Educational Consultants would continue to serve the Board. The Governing Board approved Hanan Almiladi as the first Executive Director of the Illinois Special Education Charter Cooperative.