St. Frances of Rome Catholic School to Remain Open and Join Big Shoulders Fund Plus Network

On the eve of its 100th Anniversary, the school receives long-term financial and
operational support to remain open

March 6, 2024 (CHICAGO) – Today, St. Frances of Rome School, Big Shoulders Fund, and the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that St. Frances of Rome School will remain open and join the Big Shoulders Fund Plus network. Following the January 18, 2024, announcement that St. Frances of Rome would close, anonymous donors to Big Shoulders Fund offered a gift to help keep the school open. This pledge fostered intensive collaboration between the St. Frances of Rome School community, Big Shoulders Fund, and the Archdiocese of Chicago and made it possible to find a path to keep the school open.

“St. Frances of Rome School has been an important part of the fabric of the Cicero community for 100 years,” said St. Frances of Rome School Principal Phil Jackson. “We’re moved by the overwhelming generosity of Big Shoulders Fund and other donors to keep our school open. Joining the Big Shoulders community, St. Frances of Rome is ready to embark on its next 100 years.”

The news was shared with students, staff, and families, on Wednesday, March 6, just days before St. Frances of Rome School is scheduled to celebrate its 100th anniversary. The lead gift from the anonymous donors will fill immediate needs and by joining the Big Shoulders Fund Plus network, the school will have access to operational support for at least the next five years.

“Big Shoulders Fund is fortunate to have built a robust network and support system, and it never ceases to inspire me when I see so many people rally to save a school,” said Big Shoulders Fund President and Chief Executive Officer Josh Hale. “With this addition of St. Frances of Rome School, Big Shoulders is excited to expand to Cicero. We look forward to working in partnership with the local community and we invite others to join us in this important work.” Big Shoulders Fund has also announced that it will be offering scholarships to St. Odilo students who would like to continue their education next year at a local Catholic school.

Launched in 2020 with 30 schools, Big Shoulders Fund Plus is a 10-year, nearly $100 million commitment that builds on the long-standing relationships and support that Big Shoulders Fund has provided to its highest-need schools. With the addition of St. Frances of Rome and five years remaining on the agreement, the initiative now includes 38 schools, offering increased operational support to best meet the needs of students, families, and the broader community. The remarkable and continued growth of the Big Shoulders Fund Plus initiative reaffirms the position of Big Shoulders Fund as a catalyst for change, shaping the future of education and opening doors of opportunity for all.

“All communities are stronger when families can choose a school that best meets their children’s needs. Our partnership with Big Shoulders Fund strengthens dozens of communities throughout the Chicago area and we are delighted to add Cicero and St. Frances of Rome to that list,” said Greg Richmond, Superintendent of Catholic Schools.

Big Shoulders Fund Plus boasts a powerful track record of providing comprehensive support to Plus schools, empowering them to deliver quality education while fostering a nurturing and inclusive learning environment. In 2021 and 2023, Curriculum Associates conducted a large-scale study to compare the performance of Illinois students taking the iReady Diagnostic assessment with public school students taking the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR) and found a high correlation between the two tests. In English Language Arts, 44% of Plus students – 90% of whom are low-income – met expectations on iReady compared to 21% for Illinois low-income students and 19% for Chicago Public School (CPS) low-income students on IAR. In math, 30% of Plus students met expectations compared to 13% of Illinois low-income students and 11% of CPS low-income students. Big Shoulders Fund remains most focused on the trajectory of students to and through college and career to become active, engaged citizens. To that end, 80% of scholars matriculate to college and students earn a degree at two times the national average. Even more, Latino and Black scholars graduate at three-times and four-times their counterparts, respectively, and graduates go on to vote, contribute, and participate at greater rates than local and national outcomes.

A central piece to keeping St. Frances of Rome School open is its integration into the Big Shoulders Fund Plus network of schools.

Save My Scholarship Coalition Policy Update

October 12, 2023

Five years ago, the Illinois Invest in Kids Act was enacted to ensure that children from underrepresented
minority communities and low-income households could access the school that best
meets their needs by removing financial barriers. Since that time, thousands and thousands of
children have accessed their best-fit school thanks to a tax credit scholarship.
With the Invest in Kids Act now up for renewal, we have the opportunity to build on its successes
and make the Tax Credit Scholarship Program even more impactful moving forward. Our broad
coalition of families, schools, and community leaders have raised their voices about this program’s
importance and the need to see it continue for generations of students. As a coalition, we support
policy changes that would create stability for already participating families by building onto the
existing Tax Credit Scholarship Program and strengthening the program’s support for the most
vulnerable students.

Lawmakers are listening and are seeking ways to support the very children the Tax Credit
Scholarship Program was intended to serve, as well as narrow the program’s focus onto those
families and kids who face the greatest disadvantages. The Invest in Kids Act was designed to
provide increased support for families with greater economic need, students with unique learning
needs, and economically challenged communities. Importantly, however, disproportionately
impacted neighborhoods are most often those Black and Latino communities call home. While
over 50 percent of current tax credit scholarship recipients are currently Black and Latino
children from low-income households, policy changes could increase their participation
significantly. If legislators take action, these policy changes could substantially increase access to
best-fit private schools for under-represented minority groups through a life-changing tax credit

We are committed to ensuring the Tax Credit Scholarship Program remains a constant and
steady lifeline for the tens of thousands of children from under-represented and under-resourced
communities who rely on it. Further, we are ready to reaffirm on our commitment by advancing
policy changes that provide additional opportunities to communities that are all too often denied
quality options.

Toward that end, and in direct response to concerns raised by legislators, we have developed a
revised policy that would increase scholarship opportunities for families in under-represented
communities in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. If enacted by the legislature, this
policy change would achieve the coalition’s goals, importantly keeping the Tax Credit Scholarship
Program alive and helping even more students. In the coming weeks, we will be sharing the
framework of this policy and related language. We look forward to further discussing the important
impacts of this policy moving forward.


In Partnership with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Initiative Aims to Increase the Number of High-Quality, Affordable Pre-K Programs Available in Underserved Communities

(CHICAGO) – Big Shoulders Fund is excited to announce that it has received a grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation to fund an early childhood education initiative aimed at improving access to high-quality prekindergarten (Pre-K) in the Englewood and Little Village communities.

The initiative will focus on five schools in the Big Shoulders Fund network – Academy of St. Benedict the African and Visitation Catholic School in Englewood and Epiphany Catholic School, Our Lady of Tepeyac Elementary School, and St. Agnes of Bohemia School in Little Village – due to the significant enrollment declines in Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 classrooms these schools experienced as a result of the loss of Pre-School for All Funding (PFA) in 2019.

“We’re extremely grateful for the consideration and generosity the Robert R. McCormick Foundation Board of Directors has demonstrated in awarding us this important grant,” said Josh Hale, President and CEO of Big Shoulders Fund. “Preschool is the gateway to a child’s academic journey, and this initiative is an important step towards increasing capacity, enhancing the quality of programming, and ensuring that parents and guardians in these under-resourced communities have access to the best academic option for their children.”

The initiative will include measures to increase Pre-K access for children and families, including a renewable scholarship, resources for staffing and classroom expansion, and academic and operational support provided by Big Shoulders Fund. The Robert R. McCormick Foundation First Steps Scholarship will be provided to Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 students in the amount of $2,000 per year, renewable for up to two years. Through these efforts, Big Shoulders Fund hopes to add 110 children to Pre-K programs at these schools by the 2024-25 school year, doubling current PreK enrollment.

“The mission of Big Shoulders Fund is very much in line with our work at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, where we invest in organizations in Chicago working to build thriving communities where all individuals have the resources and opportunities to succeed without regard to ZIP Code,” said Tim Knight, President and CEO of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. “Early childhood education is a critical building block that sets students up for success throughout their academic journey and personal development. We’re thrilled to provide this grant to help enhance the quality of early childhood education in communities that have historically suffered from underinvestment and help put students on a path to lifelong success.”

The expansion model will also include measures to minimize risk for schools as they increase staffing and open classrooms to accommodate new student enrollment, including annual grants to schools to cover the cost of opening additional classrooms, maintaining student-to-teacher ratios as the number of students enrolled grows and ensuring the successful recruitment and retention of quality educators and staff members. Over the course of three school years, the focus schools are projected to expand Pre-K programming by adding staff in all five schools and adding classrooms in four of the five schools.

“Thanks to this exciting and impactful grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, we are afforded an opportunity in this uncertain economic environment to guarantee a quality early childhood education for our youngest students,” said Jennifer Farrand, Principal of Academy of St. Benedict the African (ASBA). “This money will be used to change children’s lives. Of note, we have enrolled twenty-five new preschoolers and have opened a new classroom and we hope to welcome at least ten more preschoolers this school year. I know our school makes a difference, and we cannot do it alone!”

Families that are interested in learning more about this initiative and applying for the Robert R. McCormick Foundation First Steps Scholarship can visit: (English) or (Spanish).


Commitment Protects the Long-Term Vitality of 32 Chicago Schools, Collectively Serving Nearly 6,000 Students

August 30, 2022 (CHICAGO) – Big Shoulders Fund today announced the addition of two schools from its network, St. Francis de Sales High School and St. Sabina Academy, to the Big Shoulders Fund Plus initiative. As Big Shoulders Fund Plus schools, St. Francis de Sales High School and St. Sabina Academy will join 30 other high-need schools in receiving additional academic and operational support, aimed at preserving their long-term vitality.

In 2020, Big Shoulders Fund made an unprecedented 10-year, $70M commitment to 30 of its highest-need schools, enabling these schools to remain open and viable and to continue enriching the local communities that they serve. In just over one year, Big Shoulders Fund has raised more than $58M of that commitment, and is now inviting the broader public to join in this vision and invest in Chicago’s children and communities.

“Big Shoulders Fund Plus schools, including recently added St. Francis de Sales and St. Sabina Academy, are located in neighborhoods and communities that have suffered from years of underinvestment,” said Josh Hale, President and CEO of Big Shoulders Fund. “Despite this, the children in these neighborhoods are rich in talent, passion, hard work and hope. Ensuring that these students continue to have access to a high-quality education in a safe and supportive environment is critical to providing a path that will enable these children to grow up to be productive, positive forces in their communities and in the world.”

As part of this agreement, which was made with the Archdiocese of Chicago, Big Shoulders Fund assumed a 51 percent financial stake in these schools and has taken on more direct management, working closely with principals and school leaders to help them to manage their schools, plan strategically and work towards specific academic, enrollment, developmental and financial goals, as well as create new professional development opportunities and an extended career path for school leaders. This increased operational management support has already translated into significant outcomes. In just the last year alone, the 30 Big Shoulders Fund Plus schools saw an enrollment increase of 8%, with pre-kindergarten enrollment increasing 28%.

“Working hand in hand with Big Shoulders Fund, I have seen what a difference their commitment to our school, staff, students and families makes to both St. Francis de Sales High School and the Southeast Side community,” said Roni-Nicole Facen, Principal and CEO of St. Francis de Sales High School. “Through the launch of our work study program, professional development for staff, grants for academic initiatives, scholarship support, marketing and development resources and more, Big Shoulders Fund is a true partner. We are excited for our future and to formalize our work together by joining the cadre of Big Shoulders Fund Plus schools!”

Principal Tiffany Brown of St. Sabina Academy said, “We are thrilled to have become a part of the exceptional Big Shoulder Fund Plus network and we look forward to our partnership and the support that we will receive as we work together to provide a rich educational experience for children. St. Sabina Academy has been in the Auburn Gresham community for over 100 years, providing a family atmosphere where students and families are known, safe, loved, and nurtured. This partnership not only helps to ensure that we can continue that work, it will also enable us to make an even bigger impact on the families who call this neighborhood home.”

“Big Shoulders Fund Plus not only ensures that these schools remain open for the students and families they serve, but allows for the schools to continue to provide critical stability and support to the broader community,” added Hale. “Our vision is that the Big Shoulders Fund Plus initiative is the model for the future, with capacity to incorporate more schools and impact more children.”

Individuals interested in learning more or donating can visit

ComEd Announces $450,000 to Launch Skilled Trades Program in Partnership with Four Chicago Catholic High Schools

Set to launch in fall, Powering Our Future program will expand STEM and skilled trades training for up to 1,000 Chicago students

CHICAGO (April 6, 2022) – ComEd, in collaboration with Big Shoulders Fund and United Way Metro Chicago, today launched Powering Our Future – a new initiative that will expand skilled trades and STEM training at four Chicago Catholic high schools. To remove barriers to entry to energy and skilled trades careers, a new $450,000 investment by ComEd and parent company Exelon will pilot the program in schools located in historically underserved communities.

Building on expansive STEM programming ComEd supports at Chicago Public Schools, this initiative will expand career pathways for women and minorities, who are underrepresented in STEM industries. Thanks to ComEd’s investment and support from local philanthropy, the new Powering Our Future program is set to reach up to 1,000 students over the next three years.

“Women and people of color continue to be vastly underrepresented in STEM fields, but though our investments in workforce training and STEM education, we are looking to change that,” said Terence Donnelly, president and COO at ComEd. “At ComEd, our goal is to ensure our workforce matches the diversity of the communities we are privileged to serve, and that our ongoing and critical infrastructure investment serves as a catalyst to create jobs for local residents.”

Powering Our Future will combine in-classroom and hands-on technical experience to help more students explore possibilities and build skills to work in key skilled trades in the energy/utilities, advanced manufacturing, and technology sectors. Powering Our Future is set to launch at four Chicago Catholic high schools in the Big Shoulders Fund network this fall:

  1. Josephinum Academy in Wicker Park
  2. Leo High School in Auburn Gresham
  3. Our Lady of Tepeyac High School, serving Lawndale
  4. St. Francis de Sales High School, serving East Side and South Chicago

“Big Shoulders Fund is thrilled to partner with ComEd and United Way Metro Chicago to not only build students’ knowledge of skilled trade fields, but also provide pathways to a wide variety of college, training, and career opportunities,” said Big Shoulders Fund President and CEO Josh Hale. “The four Big Shoulders Fund high schools participating prepare students to go on to become our city’s future workforce and leaders, and this program provides an important new tool to enhance that work and expand potential career paths for them to pursue.”

The program will introduce students to career pathways in the energy, utility and related sectors. Big Shoulders Fund will work with school staff to implement a new curriculum this fall – with in-classroom instruction led by current STEM teachers and staff, and ComEd supporting hands-on experiences including field trips, work-based learning, mentoring and technical classes. The program will serve as a steppingstone to advanced training by ComEd, including the CONSTRUCT Training Academy, and programs offered in partnership with Dawson Technical Institute of Kennedy-King College.

“United Way of Metro Chicago is excited to connect high school students in our Neighborhood Networks in Auburn Gresham and South Chicago with the Powering Our Future program,” said Sean Garrett, President and CEO of United Way of Metro Chicago. “Leveraging our coalitions in the Neighborhood Networks will help enroll more students in this vital program, providing pathways to future careers and ultimately building stronger, more equitable communities.”

The four schools are located in historically disadvantaged communities, within the Big Shoulders Fund network. With two of the pilot schools serving an all-girls population, this program also brings forward a first-of-its-kind opportunity to expand skilled trades-focused training for women.

“Building a skilled and diverse labor force to power our electrical needs today and tomorrow starts with investments in our young people,” said Terry McGoldrick, President of IBEW Local 15. “We applaud ComEd’s efforts to develop partnerships with local schools and community partners that will enhance skill building and expose more of our young people to the possibility of good paying jobs in the electric trades.”

Advancements in clean energy technology are expected to fuel new jobs for the future, with the Center for Energy Workforce Development estimating 2,000 new jobs in utilities in the Midwest region in the next three years alone. To ensure that future clean energy jobs go to diverse local residents – ComEd is taking steps to address inequities in STEM. As little as 9 percent of STEM jobs are occupied by Black Americans, with 7 percent by Latinos, and 28 percent by women.

Powering Our Future builds on the success of current ComEd education and job training programs, including: the Chicago Builds immersive skilled trades program for juniors and seniors; Create A Spark – a four-year STEM training and mentorship program for high school students enrolled in Chicago Public Schools (CPS); and STEM Home Labs, a leadership series designed to overcome barriers to STEM related careers. Last year alone, these programs helped reach over 1,000 students across the city of Chicago and involved participation by 174 ComEd mentors.

Over the next few months, Big Shoulders Fund will work with school communities to host virtual and community meetings where students can learn more about the program and how participating would enhance their own college and career plans. For more information about the Powering Our Future program and other STEM education initiatives, please visit ComEd’s website.

About ComEd

ComEd is a unit of Chicago-based Exelon Corporation (NASDAQ: EXC), a Fortune 200 energy company with approximately 10 million electricity and natural gas customers – the largest number of customers in the U.S. ComEd powers the lives of more than 4 million customers across northern Illinois, or 70 percent of the state’s population. For more information visit and connect with the company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.