A Smyth Elementary Teacher’s Thoughts on Equity and Neighborhood Schools
SCHOOLS | April 1, 2021
A Smyth Elementary Teacher’s Thoughts on Equity and Neighborhood Schools

The final bell has just rung on the Friday before spring break. While most students and staff eagerly shuffle out of the building, Mr. Charles Gunn sits down behind a table covered in Chromebooks in the school’s main hallway. 

It is time for his daily technology support hour for Smyth Elementary families, which he has run since the pandemic started. He isn’t sure if anyone is going to show up today, but, pretty soon, a young girl shows up with her mom, who has just gotten off of work. 

Her Chromebook hasn’t been working. Mr. Gunn troubleshoots a few different things, and, within a few minutes, sends her home with a replacement charger. He even runs up to her classroom to bring her some of her schoolwork that she left there. 

“Part of equity is making sure that students have the technology they need to learn, and if I can help provide the technology, I’m going to do that,” he said. “This is what has driven me to proactively make sure there is a solution for all our families when it comes to what they need.” 

Mr. Gunn lives right by Smyth, so he sees himself not only as a teacher and technology coordinator for his families, but as their neighbor. This has motivated him to put the needs of the Smyth community first over the past year, even making daily technology deliveries for families who cannot make it to the school. 

“The neighborhood school model is really meaningful to me because if you can make it work then you’re helping an entire community,” he said. “The spirit of community means that you make sure everyone has their needs met before anyone gets extra.”

Having served in CPS since 1990, Mr. Gunn says serving students for so many years has been extremely rewarding, and, while there are many ways to evaluate success at a school, he measures it in how well his families feel supported. 

“Are the families happy? That is what you have to ask yourself, and you have to keep checking,” he said. “I want my families to feel like they’re heard, they matter, and that I care about their situation.” 

This mentality certainly drives Mr. Gunn’s work as the school’s technology coordinator, but it is also the foundation of his other, equally important role at Smyth—being a K-2 diverse learner teacher. 

His classroom is currently split equally between students who are learning at school versus learning from home, but he had been coming into Smyth to teach every day since the pandemic started. He knew that his students would benefit from being able to see the school and their classroom. 

“I liked teaching from the school because my students were familiar with everything from the posters in the room to the tree outside our window,” he said. “I’d go to the gym, the cafeteria, and the auditorium to let them look around, and we’d say hi to anyone who walked by—they became part of my class.” 

As he continues to help Smyth families with their day-to-day technology needs and his diverse learners reach their full academic potential, Mr. Gunn also has plans for some larger projects to benefit his school. One that he is particularly excited about is creating database systems to help teachers and administrators share information more easily with each other. 

You could try to sum up Mr. Gunn using numbers. 31 years in CPS. 650 devices distributed this year. But what matters to him is the sense of responsibility within each of his identities: teacher, technology coordinator, neighbor, community member, Chicagoan. 

“Chicago is my home, and I believe that we are not just teachers but also need to be engaged community members,” he said. “31 years later, and the parents go from being older than you to much younger than you. It’s rewarding to know that you have the experience to help them out in most situations.”