Video: CPS is losing its top leader as the teachers union fights layoffs. Amanda Vinicky reports on the future of Chicago Public Schools.
As Janice Jackson’s tenure with Chicago Public Schools draws to an end, a cavalcade of current and former elected officials sung her praises during what was her final Board of Education meeting as CEO.
Jackson, who will be exiting her role atop CPS when her contract expires at the end of the month, reflected on her career as CEO Wednesday and said she “can honestly say that I think that I’ve made things better.”
“It goes without saying that I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve been able to do here, whether that was from being a high school teacher all the way to my current seat,” she said. “And it wouldn’t have been possible without support every step of the way from important people, first starting with my family, who has supported me throughout this journey.
“It hasn’t been easy, but there have also been far more positive things that have happened,” she said.
Jackson has served as CEO for more than three years, but she’s spent more than two decades working within CPS, moving from teacher to principal to network chief, and then on to leadership roles as chief education officer and finally as CEO.
Board members and others spent some 40 minutes during Wednesday’s meeting congratulating Jackson.
Board President Miguel del Valle called her an “extraordinary person” whose contributions “will be felt for decades to come.” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the success of CPS students will “forever be a part of (Jackson’s) legacy.”
Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who appointed Jackson as CEO following the tumultuous exit of her predecessor Forrest Claypool, said he saw “greatness in making” from the first time he met her.
“You never forgot where you were going, how you were going to take the school system, and more importantly make sure every child in the city of Chicago counted,” he said in a video message. “I’m so proud of everything you’ve done and accomplished for the children and the city of Chicago.”
Letters of thanks from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin were also read during Wednesday’s meeting, and several Chicago aldermen called in to the meeting to thank Jackson for her service.
Despite the praise, multiple public speakers at Wednesday’s meeting called out Jackson and the district for laying off some 443 educators and school staff as a part of its annual staffing adjustments.
Maria Moreno, financial secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union, said she’s “deeply concerned” by the cuts, particularly after “15 months of a deadly pandemic” and with CPS set to receive $1.8 billion in federal funding to be used, in part, to help preserve jobs.
“CPS, reverse these layoffs,” she told the board.
CPS Chief of Talent Development Matt Lyons said the layoffs were not related to budget changes so much as they were related to shifts in student needs and school programming. He said the district is planning to fill 2,000 jobs before the next school year and many of those laid-off staffers can be rehired.
City officials are leading a search to find the next CPS CEO. Earlier this month, Lightfoot announced that Jose Torres, a former CPS official who previously led the second-largest school district in Illinois, will serve as interim CEO once Jackson’s contract expires.
BWP & Associates, the firm hired to run that search, said Wednesday it has thus far received feedback from more than 4,600 stakeholders. That’s come largely through online surveys, with other feedback gathered from focus groups and some one-on-one meetings with city officials and board members.
Of those respondents, 45% said they were CPS parents, 38% were district employees and 20% were CPS students. Broken down by race, the respondents were 34% white, 22% Black and 22% Latino.
Jackson on Wednesday called Torres “the right educator at this time to take us through this tough time.”
Twenty-five people have applied thus far for the CEO position, and the deadline to apply is this Friday.
Lightfoot has promised “unprecedented” levels of public participation in the CEO search, and has said she expects finalists to be identified by late July.