Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, who rose from a CPS Head Start student to lead the district through a teachers strike and the COVID-19 shutdown, will leave her post and the school system this summer, announcing her departure Monday as the district continues to cope with the pandemic’s incalculable impact.
She confirmed her departure in a message to CPS staff, saying it’s “time to pass the torch to new leadership for the next chapter.”ADVERTISING
“CPS has been an integral part of my life first as a student, most importantly as a parent, and most humbly as the CEO. It is with that adoration that I have led this great school district as CEO for the past four years,” she wrote.
Jackson said there is “still more work to be done in CPS” but that “after careful deliberation, I have made the tough decision not to renew my contract as CEO, which expires on June 30, 2021.”
The memo gives no mention of Jackson’s future plans.
At an afternoon news conference with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Jackson said her next move won’t be running a school district but that she will remain committed to public education. She stressed she has no plans to run for public office — except maybe for an elected school board, she said with a laugh — and no new job lined up.
She credited students with the district’s successes and talked about how creating the office of equity was one one of her first major decisions as CEO. She said she’s proud of the culturally responsive curriculum and the two South Side high schools build under her watch, Englewood STEM and Bronzeville.
She also discussed challenges, including “systemic” failures to handle sexual misconduct documented in the Tribune’s Betrayed series, and how the she handled the district’s response.
The mayor spoke of Jackson’s “remarkable, remarkable story and accomplishment” of starting at CPS as a child in a Head Start program and ending her ties there as its CEO. Lightfoot also stressed she will prioritize the search for new CPS leadership team.
With not only Jackson leaving but two of her top deputies, Lightfoot acknowledged this will be a turning point for the school system. She said it’s a time to “restore, recommit and re-imagine,” speaking of the “painful legacies” of past decisions like the closure of dozens of schools that occurred under her predecessor.
The mayor disputed that there would be a leadership void, saying the district has “very strong leaders across the system.”
“Not one person can make everything work. It takes a massive team, and there is a massive team at all different levels … who are ready to step up and lead as we make this transition,” Lightfoot said. “… Stability is what we search for. Stability is what we’re going to get.”
When Jackson was named Chicago education officer in July of 2015, she told the Tribune, “I am Chicago, and I consider myself a piece of Chicago. There’s nothing of interest to me outside of this city. That alone shows a degree of stability.”
Jackson was named interim CEO of CPS by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel in late 2017 following Forrest Claypool’s abrupt resignation. Claypool had taken the helm from former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was the subject of a federal investigation into contract kickbacks, and eventually landed in prison.
Jackson then saw the district through an unimaginably tumultuous period, starting with a teachers strike in 2019 and then the total shutdown of the district in March 2020 after COVID-19 appeared.
She was given a $40,000 raise last year, bringing her annual base pay up to $300,000. Her contract, which started in 2018, runs through June.
The announcement means CPS has a large leadership gap to fill as it comes following the news that two of Jackson’s top deputies are also departing.
CPS Chief Operating Officer Arnie Rivera, is also leaving the district, according to an email sent to school leaders Sunday night.
“As a lifelong educator and CPS graduate, I can confidently say that I know our schools like the back of my hand,” Jackson wrote in the email about Rivera’s departure. “… As a CPS parent, and former teacher and Board of Education member, Arnie Rivera was the first and only person I asked to serve as Chief Operating Officer because Arnie would always prioritize the needs of students, staff and parents above all else.”
Rivera’s deputy, Lindy McGuire, will take over as acting chief operating officer while the district searchers for a replacement, according to the email.
In March, Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade announced she would be leaving at the end of the school year to lead Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia.
The Lightfoot administration has at times struggled to fill key positions. The deputy mayor for public safety and chief risk officer left last fall, for instance, and the city has yet to announce new hires despite arguing that those positions are key to violence prevention and reform.
Jackson took over as CEO during a time of turmoil in the district and has had little respite from turbulence during her tenure.
In October 2019, after months of negotiations failed to result in new contracts with unions representing teachers and support staff, both groups walked off the job, closing schools for roughly 300,000 students at CPS-run buildings for two weeks.
The lengthy battle between Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union — which had backed Lightfoot’s challenger, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, during the mayoral race just months earlier — ended when the mayor and union forged a $1.5 billion, five-year deal contract deal that both sides said would transform CPS.
But just when it seemed like nothing more disruptive could happen in CPS, the pandemic hit just a few months later. One of Illinois’ earliest reported cases of COVID-19 reported in Illinois being a staff member at Vaughn Occupational High, a CPS school; soon every school in Illinois would also shut down because of the oncoming pandemic.
That prompted the hasty switch to remote learning for hundreds of CPS schools, and the need to ensure ensure students had devices and internet access, that their families could still receive free breakfast and lunch and that staff who needed to remain in schools could stay safe.
It also meant another protracted battle with the CTU, which demanded that CPS leaders engage in collective bargaining over the reopening of schools. Those talks were tense, with the union expressing a lack of trust in city and CPS leaders and eventually prompting educators to refuse to teach in person. That in turn led Jackson to cut off remote access and dock pay to some teachers before the sides eventually came to terms. After multiple delays, school reopened in phases over recent months, with high schools the last to reopen on April 19.
Over her years as a top district official, Jackson has often cited her personal history with CPS. She attended Cook Elementary School in the South Side Gresham neighborhood; while growing up her father worked as a cabdriver and her mother was a dispatcher, she’s previously said. She graduated from Hyde Park Academy High School before earning a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master’s degree in history from Chicago State University.
She earned a second master’s degree and in 2010, received a doctorate of education in policy studies and urban school leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago, according to district records.
After teaching at CPS’s South Shore High School from 1999 through 2004, Jackson helped garner a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant that led to the creation of Al Raby High School, where she eventually became principal.
Jackson was appointed principal of the new Westinghouse High School in 2008, and in 2014, was promoted to head one of the district’s 13 school networks.
“I think it’s important to note that this is not professional for me, this is personal,” Jackson said in 2015.
In her public comments Monday, Jackson thanked the central office “dream team,” along with principals and educators in the districts schools.
“You have truly been the best and most impactful team that this district has ever seen,” she said.
Lightfoot said Jackson’s “lived experience,” as well as her “emphasis on equity, and inclusion … have and will continue to drive excellence in our school system. Dr. Jackson’s tenure illustrates that success isn’t the result of one program, or one initiative, but instead a holistic approach to education and youth development that ensures every single one of our students receives the rigor, love and support that they need, regardless of their circumstances or ZIP code, and regardless of what other challenges may arise on one second.”
Original article: chicagotribune.com