Transitions at Smart Chicago

As of today, Friday, May 27, 2016, I am leaving my position as Executive Director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative.

Kyla Williams Kyla Williams has been appointed Interim Executive Director. She has been with the organization since December 2011. She is a wellspring of knowledge and has been a key person in nearly every program we run. You can contact Kyla at

The founding partners of Smart Chicago— the The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the City of Chicago, and The Chicago Community Trust— are devoted to the organization and are working to launch the search for a new Executive Director. Stay tuned to for more on that.

While Kyla is responsible for all finances, programs, and personnel, here’s a handy contact list for many existing Smart Chicago projects:

Sonja Marziano,

Denise Linn

Leslie Durr

And Kyla retains or inherits responsibility for the following projects:

Please contact Kyla Williams at with any questions, comments and concerns.

On a personal note, I look forward to keeping up with you— find me over here on Twitter and see my writing here. Otherwise, I greatly look forward to seeing the great work of Smart Chicago continue!

Love, Daniel X. O’Neil & the Smart Chicago Collaborative


Smart Chicago Welcomes Ash Center Summer Fellow Glynis Startz

linkedin_croppedToday Glynis Startz joins the Smart Chicago Collaborative as a summer graduate fellow from the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University. Glynis will inform Smart Chicago’s work to make Chicago a smart city that truly works for everyone. She will primarily assist with, provide strategy for, and write about the Array of Things Civic Engagement work.

Glynis is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where she has been transitioning from international development work to focus on helping local governments make the best use of data and technology. Before arriving at the Kennedy School she was a Research Analyst for Innovations for Poverty Action, working on randomized control trial program evaluations for poverty reduction interventions.

Please join us in welcoming Glynis Startz. Follow her @glssea on Twitter!


Digital Learn Launches out of the Chicago Public Library

The Chicago Public Library, a key partner in Connect Chicago, has launched Digital Learn, a much-needed portal that caters to the needs of new computer and Internet users.

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Here is an excerpt from the Chicago Public Library Foundation on the launch of Digital Learn:

Chicago Public Library recently unveiled its Digital Readiness Program. Alongside developers behind the online education hub Digital Learn (produced by the Public Library Association), they will bring module-based learning software to every CPL branch. The goal is to have individuals advance through each module at their own pace, all the while increasing their digital skills. What’s more, patrons will be able to access this software from any computer, not just those in the Library.

The customization of the Digital Learn software was supported in part through grants from Boeing Corporation, JP Morgan Chase, and the Joyce Foundation to the Chicago Public Library Foundation.

The software will help users learn everything from setting up an email account, to using a PC or a Mac and conducting an online job search.

With funding given to the Chicago Public Library Foundation from Connect Chicago, part of the Chicago Community Trust’s Smart Chicago Initiative, there will now be Cybernavigators (computer tutors) at each Library branch across the city. These CyberNavigators will be trained on the Digital Learn software and be ready to assist patrons who are anxious to build their digital skills.

With the expansion of the CyberNavigator program across Chicago Public Library Branches under Connect Chicago, this learning portal will have a human infrastructure behind it offering support and training. Not only that, but the Connect Chicago Ecosystem — comprised of over 250 public computing & training locations and a Meetup of over 600 people — will have a tool to serve basic computer learners.

Chicago Launches First Universal Preschool Application

Early Bird Preschool ApplicationOn May 16, 2016, the City of Chicago launched its first universal preschool application to help more families enroll in Early Learning. Here is part of the Mayor Office’s press release:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel today launched the city’s first universal early childhood online application site, providing parents and families across the city with a comprehensive menu of preschool opportunities available under Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS). Starting today, this new system will improve access for parents seeking a program for their 3- or 4-year old child by helping them identify opportunities open in their neighborhood.

“Every child in every neighborhood deserves a quality education and that must begin in their earliest years,” said Mayor Emanuel. “These improvements to our early learning enrollment process will ensure that all of our families—no matter their needs—will be able to find and secure a quality early learning program for their child that will provide a foundation for the rest of his or her academic career.”

The online system will create a streamlined process, providing comprehensive information on all programs available to families, making it easier to select a program among the City’s more than 600 high-quality community-based and school-based preschool programs. By moving the application process online, the administration will reduce barriers and allow parents to complete the application from any computer, tablet or smart phone.

Parents still begin their experience on the Chicago Early Learning portal, where they can search for and compare early learning programs. After parents find two early learning programs that suit their needs, they are able to access the “Early Bird” application at and complete the application for preschool programs.

Parents are also able to call the Chicago Early Learning hotline at (312) 229-1690 or visit Chicago Early Learning Family Resources Centers for additional help with the application. Family Resource Centers are libraries and centers across the city where Early Learning specialists are stationed to help parents navigate the early learning process.

Smart Chicago built and managed Chicago Early Learning since its inception in 2012. We continue to work closely with our partners at the City of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS), to improve the portal to better serve the needs of Early Learning specialists and parents.

We are excited about the addition of a universal preschool application because we see how it can improve parent’s experience in enrolling their child in early learning programs whether they are applying for a community-based program or a CPS-based program.

Updates to Chicago Early Learning

In the last few months, we made some considerable improvements to the search functionality to give parents more flexibility in search terms. Parents are able to search for part of a center’s name (such as the short name for a CPS location) to find a specific location. They are also able to search by zip code and community area more easily. We also improved address search to be more flexible and accommodate a parent searching by cross-streets, for example.

We made changes to the search page to consolidate some of the information and better use the space to give parents more important information about a center first. We heard from our partners that the top questions they hear from parents when asking about a center are about the ages the center serves, and whether the center offers full day or part day programming.

Chicago Early Learning Search Screenshot

We also have been working closely with the City of Chicago to update content on the portal to help parents give more information about the enrollment process, including a refreshed Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page.

As part of the Early Bird application process, we are listening to more feedback from our partners, the Early Learning specialists, and parents & caregivers and continue to make improvements to the Chicago Early Learning portal. More to come!

Youth-Led Tech 2016 Student Application Is Now Open!

Youth-Led TechYouth-Led Tech Logo

Youth-led Tech Summer 2016 is a technology mentoring program in three Chicago neighborhoods: Austin, North Lawndale, and Roseland. We are also delivering a program in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.


The conceptual model for this program is “youth-led tech”, which means teaching technology in the context of the needs & priorities of young people. Youth learn how to use free and inexpensive Web tools to make websites and use social media to build skills, generate revenue, and get jobs in the growing technology industry.

They also learn about all sorts of other jobs in tech— strategy, project management, design, and so on. At the end of the six-week program, all of the youth know how to set up a website, are exposed to sophisticated tech skills, and know how to find real customers & employers for their skills.

This intensive, six-week summer program (from 10 am – 4 pm; 6/27/16 – 8/5/16) meets youth where they’re at, in their neighborhoods, at their skill level, and takes them through a course of learning on simple & powerful Web-based tools. The program material— the websites and tools they made— revolve around their expressed needs and interests.

Recruitment is now open for Youth Applicants!

Are you between the ages of 13-18?
A resident of the City of Chicago?
Reside in either the Austin, North Lawndale, or Roseland communities?
Interested in Tech?
Want to be in a safe, nurturing, learning environment?
Need help with building up social and workforce development skills?

If Yes, then Apply Here

For more information or questions, please contact Smart Chicago at 312-565-2933 or email




Leslie Durr Joins Smart Chicago as Project Coordinator

Leslie DurrLeslie Durr  joins the Smart Chicago Collaborative as a Project Coordinator.She will serve as the point person for projects including Chicago Health Atlas, Smart Health Centers, Foodborne, Hive Learning Networks and Youth-Led Tech. She will also be working to add several new projects to our portfolio.

Her experience includes program development and grant management in the non-profit sector, most recently with the Southland Health Care Forum as the Project Director for the State of Illinois Get Covered Campaign.

Leslie has her Master of Science in Human Service Administration from Spertus College and Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications from Jackson State University.

You can follow her work on Twitter.

Please join us in welcoming Leslie Durr.