Following a four-month search, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has selected San Antonio schools chief Pedro Martinez as the next Chicago Public Schools CEO.
WTTW News first reported the news Tuesday evening.
Martinez, who is himself a CPS graduate and the district’s former chief financial officer under then-CEO Arne Duncan, will take control of the nation’s third-largest school district after leading the San Antonio Independent School District since 2015. A Mexican immigrant, Martinez will become the first Latino CEO within CPS.
“It all started here,” Martinez said Wednesday outside his alma mater, Benito Juarez High School in Pilsen. “My father came (to the U.S.) when I was just turning 6 ... and we came to Chicago because Chicago embraced us as immigrants.”
Martinez will replace Janice Jackson, who stepped away from CPS earlier this year after more than three years as its CEO. Jose Torres has served as interim CEO since June. Beyond Jackson, CPS has also been without a permanent chief education officer or chief operating officer for months amid leadership changes within the district.
After he graduated from Juarez, Martinez attended the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and later earned his MBA from DePaul University, according to his LinkedIn page. He then served as the CPS CFO from 2003 to 2009.
Though he does not have classroom teaching experience, Martinez has worked in education throughout his professional career.
“I chose someone who I thought was an excellent leader and has a track record of success. I think his record speaks for itself,” Lightfoot said, pointing to Martinez's history working in a large urban school district. “I think he’s going to be a great leader for CPS.”
Martinez made headlines this year when he ordered masks for all San Antonio Independent School District students and staff, and required employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination, moves which drew the ire of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who had banned school leaders from applying such mandates.
The Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked that mask mandate and the state’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against both Martinez and his school district in August seeking a temporary order to halt the vaccine requirement.
CPS has similarly enacted both a mask mandate for all students and staff, and district employees are required to get fully vaccinated by Oct. 15. Lightfoot on Wednesday lauded Martinez for defying what she called a “wrongheaded and dangerous” mask ban.
Prior to his tenure in San Antonio, Martinez was removed from his post as superintendent of the Washoe County School District in Texas following a discrepancy in his credentials as a certified public accountant. Martinez at the time called this a misunderstanding.
Lightfoot said she was “fully aware” of this before hiring Martinez, but disputed that he had been fired, instead calling it a “mutual separation” — even though Martinez himself at the time said that he had been fired.
In a statement Wednesday, the Chicago Teachers Union said that although Martinez has no classroom or in-school experience, he must “exceed expectations” in his new role.
“Mr. Martinez will have to be an independent thinker, a far better partner and collaborator than Mayor Lightfoot, and work with stakeholders to keep them safe, earn their trust and meet high expectations,” the union said.
Asked about how he intends to navigate the historically difficult relationship between CPS and the CTU, particularly during ongoing bargaining over COVID-19 safety protocols, Martinez said that as long as the two sides can agree on the importance of in-person learning, they can “work through the rest.”
“There will be areas (where) we don’t agree,” he said,” “I still think we can respect each other.”
Martinez said his projected start date is Sept. 29, though his appointment must still be approved by the Board of Education.