BOARDWATCH: January 2018 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education

Janice Jackson became the first Chicago Public Schools "Chief Executive Officer" (CEO) who was noted feted with a press conference by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Above, the July 2015 photo of Jackson and the mayor with (right) Forres Claypool, who was being moved from his City Hall job (Chief of Staff to Rahm) to the CEO job at CPS after Barbara Byrd Bennett, who had been Rahm's second outside of Chicago choice for CEO (the first was Jean-Claude Brizard), was sentenced to prison on federal corruption charges. Rahm's insistence on supporting outsiders for the top job at the nation's third largest school system continued until Claypool was removed for a less serious ("non criminal") form of corruption. Jackson became the fifth CEO under Emanuel since 2011 as a result of the vote of the January 2018 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Those before here were: Jean-Claude Brizard; Barbara Byrd Bennett; Jesse Ruiz (interim); and Forrest Claypool. Tribune photo from July 2015. The January 2018 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education formally approved the appointment of Janice Jackson as the latest "Chief Executive Officer" of the nation's third largest school system, and then took a number of controversial actions that have been widely criticized by unions, activists, and parents. Dr. Jackson was accompanied during the meeting by a number of newly appointed executives, indicating that most of those who had come to CPS with the former CEO had departed.

The appointment and subsequent confirmation of Dr. Janice Jackson as permanent Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to replace former CEO Forrest Claypool was described by one individual as a "lovefest," at the monthly meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. That meeting took place on Wednesday, January 24, 2018, as usual at Board headquarters at 42 West Madison Street (the former downtown Sears store). Many welcomed Dr. Jackson and spoke in support of her. Dr. Jackson is the first CEO who has teaching and local school experience since Rahm Emanuel became mayor in 2011 (Emanuel's previous CEOs were Jean Claude Brizard, who came from Rochester New York; Barbara Byrd Bennett, who came from Detroit; and Forrest Claypool, who came directly from Emanuel's administration at City Hall).

Board members who were present were Mark Furlong, Jaime Guzman, and Gail Ward. Absent were Arnie Rivera (being considered for appointment as Chief Operating Officer), Alejandra Garza, and Dr. Mahalia Hines. Also present was Board President Frank Clark.

According to the agenda, the "Honoring Excellence" portion of the program showed that a performance by the Westinghouse High School Choir was scheduled.

Following this, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr. Janice Jackson, now occupying the seat formerly occupied by Forrest Claypool, spoke. Seated next to her was Douglas Henning, new Chief Counsel replacing Ronald Marmer. Elizabeth Keenan, Chief of Diverse Learner Supports and Services, stepped up to the podium to explain a Power Point presentation on diverse learners. Seated next to her was LaTanya McDade, the new Chief Education Officer (CEdO).

Liz Keenan informed everyone of the mission for diverse learners. She said IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) were becoming more common in Chicago, the third largest school district in the United States. She stated that the IEP drives the process and mentioned a need for reforms which would include transparency and para-professionals. She said that the Special Ed Procedural Manual was being updated from 2002 to make sure everyone understands the process. Currently, she claimed, the Board is getting more feedback from "advocacy groups." She also said that "additional resources" are being provided to 56 schools, and 30 schools (mostly in network five and nine) will receive additional EL (English Language) support. In addition, the ISBE (Illinois State Board of Education) will review the process. She didn't mention the fact that media exposes of the problems with special education services had driven much of the reforms now in process.

Board member Mark Furlong wanted to know if board members will be able to attend meetings of the Parent Advisory Councils.

Board member Ward added that supporting parents is essential.

Next, Board President Frank Clark explained the process for contacting board members and Board Secretary Estela Beltran explained the rules for public participation.

After this, several public officials spoke in favor of Dr. Jackson's appointment as Chief Executive Officer. They were State Senator Mattie Hunter, 3rd District; Senator Jacqueline Collins, 16th District; Alderman Rod Sawyer, 6th Ward; Alderman David Moore, 17th Ward; Alderman Michelle Harris, 8th Ward; Alderman Daniel Solis, 25th Ward; Alderman Carrie Austin, 34th Ward; and Alderman Gilbert Villegas, 36th Ward. Alderman Matt O'Shea,19th Ward, had to leave before he had a chance to speak.

Senator Hunter wants to improve the community system and transparency. She is concerned about the closings of the Englewood group of high schools. She met with them and feels that those affected needed to know earlier what the plans were. She wants to work more closely with Dr. Jackson.

Senator Collins attended the public hearings for the Englewood group of high schools that are to be closed and feels it was an ill-conceived plan. She said she does not stand with the Board on this. She elaborated that moving students causes academic recession and an uptick in school violence when crossing gang boundaries. She stated that equitable funding at the state level is also needed at the local level.

Alderman Sawyer supports Dr. Jackson as CEO and stated that all schools should be high quality neighborhood schools.

Alderman Moore said that Dr. Jackson as CEO is the best, right now, for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). He expressed thanks for the mayor's support. He added that LaTonya McDade is now in Dr. Jackson's old position, Chief Education Officer.

Alderman Harris also spoke in support of Dr. Jackson as CEO. She mentioned that Dr. Jackson began her career in Chicago as a teacher at South Shore High School and that her own children were enrolled in Chicago Public Schools.

Alderman Solis supports Dr. Jackson, Officer McDade, and Board Member Rivera. He stated that all 25th Ward schools had improved and brought 15 principals from his ward.

Alderman Austin also supports Dr. Jackson as CEO and supports Officer McDade.

Alderman Villegas stated that his grandmother had said, "You can tell who you are by who you hang with." He is also in favor of Arnie Rivera as the new CPS Chief Operating Officer.

Next to speak were Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Recording Secretary Michael Brunson, Billy Dyson, Dr. Leon Finney, Pastor John Harrell, Alderman Michael Scott, 24th Ward, and Rick Estrada, President and CEO of Metropolitan Family Services.

Michael Brunson, stated that he was here on behalf of CTU members and wanted to end the past practices of indifference to community concerns. He mentioned that he went to both hearings. He referred to Dr. Martin Luther King's statement regarding the impact of racial segregation. He said that co-location is segregation and that you don't improve schools by closing schools. He asked the Board to not close the high schools in Englewood and told the Board that they have the opportunity to do what is right.

Bill Dyson gave congratulations to Dr. Jackson and was in favor of her as CEO.

Dr. Leon Finney commended the Board for the wisdom to have Dr. Jackson as the permanent CEO. He recalled the 1963 boycott over Willis Wagons and how he worked with nine superintendents. He named closed schools and how a drop in population led to the closed schools. He added that 250,000 African-Americans were lost from 2000 to 2018 on the South and West sides.

Pastor John Harrell expressed congratulations to Dr. Jackson and Officer McDade. He said he was a graduate of Marshall High School and a nephew of Nancy Jefferson.

Alderman Michael Scott assumed office in 2015. He looks forward to Dr. Jackson being a permanent CEO

President and CEO Rick Estrada supports Dr. Jackson as permanent CEO and expressed excitement about her cultural competency. He hopes Blacks wil be convinced to move back into the city.

Public participation began next.

A member of the Erskine family, from King High School, said some are discussing ousting the principal of King, but she wants the Board to intervene to retain the principal.

Kathleen Yang-Clayton spoke of the impending closing of the National Teachers Academy (NTA). She called the process flawed, opaque, and ill-conceived.

John McDermott said he is not an NTA parent. He works with the residents of public housing. The public housing, Ickes Homes, is being redeveloped to go for market rate. He said NTA is adjacent to that site. He said that NTA was a vital asset to Ickes development and that the Ickes area needs a neighborhood elementary school.

Nella Coleman is against the transition of NTA to a high school. She had results of a survey showing the community is against NTA as a high school.

Marieyea Crawford is against changing NTA, a Level One mostly African-American elementary school to a high school. She added that this doesn't happen as much in White or economically advantaged communities.

Veronica Schmitt, a parent of a second-grader, is against NTA becoming a high school. She said that moving children around will affect them negatively. She added that the ends do not justify the means.

Kathryn McKechnie, a resident of South Loop, has a three-year-old who will go to a CPS school, spoke of the many dollars which went to fund air-conditioning. She also spoke of the closing of DuSable in 2005 after it had received large sums. She asked, "Why are we not investing in a neighborhood solution?

Esther Wong, retired from the Chinese American Service League (CASL) in September, spoke of a need for a high school to serve Chinatown.

Andrew Broy, of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS), supports Dr. Jackson. He said the Englewood plan lacks data. He said two thousand students go into Englewood each day to charter schools: Urban Prep and Noble Johnson.

Joy Clendenning, of Raise Your Hand (RYH) and a parent, opposes the closing of the Englewood high schools. She said a truly representative school board is needed and a comprehensive facilities plan. She asked the Board to not use a relentless business model.

Jen Johnson of the CTU stated that the Board can vote three months after the announcement to close Englewood high schools. She labeled the situation with the Englewood closings as "education hunger games."

Jackson Potter, also of CTU, said he is not on the lovefest bandwagon, "so far so good, let's see what's to come." He named the advantages of the University of Chicago Lab School, and asked, "How do we keep Englewood schools open?...We invest in affordable housing in communities." He added that gang issues are a problem.

Sarah Rothschild, on the CTU Task Force, stated that the new Englewood high school is not for current Englewood students. She added that investment is needed in the current schools, not a new school.

Bradford Murray, of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), told of schools run by Dr. Joseph Wise and the money they have received in contracts from CPS. He mentioned a charter school within Hirsch and his concern about a conflict of interest. He spoke of relatives that were hired and an apartment that was paid for. (See 6/24/16 article by Chicago Sun-Times staff.)

Catherine Henchek resigned because of CPS manipulation. She stated that CPS has lied to the community and asked the Board to "put our children the right thing."

Noah Nelson, a graduate of Howard University and a CPS product, spoke of regentrification sweeping through the South Loop and said the NTA plan is a continuation of outdated policies.

Paul Kent, a pediatric oncologist at Rush Hospital, referred to a book, The Death Gap, by David A. Ansell. He said that he has four adopted children with special needs, who are thriving in his wealthy River Forest community. He stated that literacy for Black males decides their future outcomes.

Steve Tozer, of the University of Illinois Program in Urban Leadership which prepares urban principals, stated that Dr. Jackson is an exceptional, special leader. He mentioned that she told the network chiefs, "We cannot rest on past achievements...we are not where we need to be."

Ronald Lawless said that Dr. Jackson, the CEO of the third largest school district in the nation, was a CPS product. He added, "CAP members of Austin believe in you."

Dori Collins, who served on Local School Councils (LSCs) and is a member of Englewood Action Council, supports a new high school in Englewood in 2019 and supports Dr. Jackson as the new CEO. She added, "We trust you, Dr. Jackson."

Darlene OBanner-Suttle, spoke in support of Dr. Jackson and said, "Next time we will have t-shirts." She said she attended O'Toole and was a graduate of Gage Park in 1975. She named her involvements, spoke of her 35 year work experience, and supports the proposal for a new high school.

Earleen Green said Dr. Jackson was at Marshall and Raby Schools. She supports Dr. Jackson and said she loves her and she also likes her. She also expressed appreciation for the "Parent University."

Joyce Chapman, of Pullman, named the groups she belongs to. She said she supports Dr. Jackson for permanent CEO and is inspired when Dr. Jackson speaks.

Catalin Willarson, whose daughter is in kindergarten at Rowe School, said the school had made a big difference in her life. Her child has been told she will attend college. Also, pride, success, and honor are stressed to the children. She stated that her older daughter went on to Jones College Prep. She welcomed Dr. Jackson.

Yadira Montesdeoca, also of Rowe, said that good things are happening there and that Rowe has an after-school program. She also welcomed Dr. Jackson and invited her to visit Rowe.

Francisco Flores, a charter school parent, said why he supports charter schools.

Rosamaria Ortiz, spoke in translated Spanish, in support of Dr. Jackson and in favor of charter schools, such as Acero which serves the Latino community. She stated that choice is important and private is too expensive.

Vivian Flores spoke in support of her child's charter school, West Belden.

Kathleen McInerney. a teacher at West Belden for four years, spoke of a flexible learning environment, profiles, personalized learning, and competency-based learning. She extended congratulations to Dr. Jackson and asked her to visit West Belden.

Cyndi Ramos Rico, of Muchin College Prep, a Noble Charter School, who graduated salutatorian, welcomed Dr. Jackson.

Andrea Tolzman, RYH, asked that Forrest Claypool's friends' contracts be eliminated. She asked that all the contracts under Claypool be looked at with fresh eyes and added that some are expiring soon. She asked that the Aramark and Sodexo contracts be reconsidered. She also asked the Board to reconsider contracts that are tied to crony companies.

Sarah Rios expressed concern about safety and academic issues at Otis Elementary. She said the school had dropped in ranking and her daughter transfered out of Otis because it was not up to level. She spoke of her disappointment with the current principal and that transparency was needed.

Charlotte Myers spoke of her son's success at Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School; he is now a freshman at Bradley University. She welcomed Dr. Jackson and invited her to visit Catalyst.

Edward Beavers, of Country Financial, said that many are not taught money management . He values a partnership with Dr. Jackson and CPS so students can achieve money management success.

Adrian Leonard, not a parent but an educator, was the last public participant. She said that "school reform is my mission." She said she was 45 years old and graduated from Cook and was working with Hirsch now. She added, "The community was not engaged to the extent that I thought it should be." She also said that not one person is against co-location, students are concerned about what is going to happen to them; they are not against co-location but want to know, what about us?

After this, Board Member Ward read the motion that allowed the Board to go into closed session. It was reported elsewhere that the Board confirmed Dr. Janice Jackson as permanent CEO in that closed session.