Mayor Names Jackson New Chief of the Chicago Public Schools

on Dec23

22 December 2017 | 1:22 pm

Any astute follower of Chicago politics can tell you which way the wind is blowing when a new director of the Chicago Public Schools is made.

The latest chief of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to fall was Forrest Claypool when he resigned last week following a demand from the inspector general for him to be fired in the wake of lying about ethics violations.

He has been replaced by his education assistant Janice Jackson, a homegrown Chicago Public Schools product. Many believe the mayor, who has expressed full confidence in her, will name her the new head of the public schools.

Jackson will be the fifth person in charge of the CPS schools since Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor in 2011.

After his election win the mayor declared war on the teachers union during the height of President Obama’s Race to the Top education reform program that privatized public education by closing public schools and replacing them with charter schools.

The first CPS CEO job (CEO replaced Superintendent when Mayor Daley wanted businessmen rather than educators to head the schools) was given to Jean Claude Brizard, a Haitian-born educator who was the superintendent of the Rochester schools. The idea behind the decision was Chicago became suddenly an international city because the mayor came from Washington and he needed somebody who sounded French and exotic.

Brizard, who now works as a consult with schools, was pushed out after the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went on strike in 2012 and was replaced by another African American educator Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Bennett, who became the first head of the Chicago Public Schools to be convicted of a felony and is currently serving a four-year sentence in prison due to orchestrating kickbacks, was a key part of the city’s privatization plan. The fact that she was an African-American woman helped to stem the charge of racism when she oversaw the record closure of nearly 50 public schools in 2013, many in African-American neighborhoods. She probably felt the bribes she earned from former consultants in no-bid contracts was something she earned. Another important role she played was pacifying CTU President Karen Lewis who bitterly battled the mayor and had planned to challenge him in the last election, although a brain tumor ended her mayoral plans. Lewis even attended Bennett’s sentencing hearing where friends of the convicted felon try to say good things to lessen the sentence.

The mayor then turned to his old friend and political powerhouse Forrest Claypool, known as the fixer in city government. He previously served as Mayor Daley’s chief of staff before heading the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Transit Authority. The mainstream media painted him as a reformer who helped clean up those agencies, while his opponents complained he merely fired a lot of employees, cut their benefits and pensions and reduced services.

Claypool’s reputation as a hard-line boss continued as head of CPS as he threatened to lay off thousands of teachers and end the school year early if the union did not make enough concessions in the contract negotiations.

He was bitterly hated by the teachers union which culminated in a vote of no confidence by the teachers last school year.

Each of these CPS CEOs served their roles for the mayor and the business class he serves.

Which brings us to the latest choice of Janice Jackson.

She began her career within CPS in 1999, working as a social studies teacher and debate team coach at South Shore High School. From there, she became principal at Al Raby High School, before becoming principal of Westinghouse High School. After five years there, she entered her first central office position, overseeing 26 schools and more than 14,000 students as district network chief.

She grew up on the South Side and attended John W. Cook Elementary and Hyde Park High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree and her first master’s from Chicago State University, then picked up a second master’s and a doctorate in education from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her dissertation focused on the many ways principals can help teachers improve their instructional capacity.

While the teachers union (note this reporter is a teacher delegate member of the CTU) is pleased that Claypool is out and the new chief Jackson hails from an educator background in this city, they are wary about the role she will play now that she heads the top position. One teacher delegate noted that she trashed the four Englewood high schools scheduled to be closed at the end of the school year.

Her role appears to be similar to the role Bennett played before she imploded.

The teachers union reiterated the need for an elected school board so that it is not the mayor and business interests that dictate who leads the city’s public schools.

The union noted that Claypool was brought done by the ethics violation scandal but he also handed out no-bid contracts to political insiders with no public oversight or accountability, cut special education funding and targeted whistleblowers, including the firing of teacher activist Sarah Chambers.

“But interim CEO Janice Jackson has also been an integral part of the Claypool administration,” CTU VP Jesse Sharkey said in a press release. “She’s got to show that she will take a different approach on revenue, reject her predecessor’s agenda to close schools and expand charters, and start listening to educators and parents.”

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