Signaling a city-state thaw, Pritzker names Chicago schools chief to transition team

Chicago schools chief Janice Jackson headlines a 35-person advisory group formed by Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker to build and support his education agenda for the next four years.

Pritzker, Jackson and other advisers gathered Tuesday morning at Melody Elementary School, in the Garfield Park community on the West Side, to announce an “Educational Success Committee” that include education leaders, lawmakers, advocates, and academics.

Pritzker said the committee would produce a report on improving the quality of education in Illinois schools, but that “their work isn’t over” once their findings go public around his inauguration in January

“I’m going to need everybody behind me on each of the transition teams to continue to advise me through the course of the administration,” said Pritzker, a billionaire philanthropist, venture capitalist, and heir to the Hyatt fortune.

His appointment of Jackson and other big names from Chicago sets a more collegial tone in the relationship between Chicago and Springfield. Chicago has often been pitted against the rest of the state in funding for schools and in the debates over the state basing school funding on student need — a change that has benefited Chicago and other districts with high populations of low-income and immigrant students.

Pritzker’s education transition team differs markedly  from the one current Gov. Bruce Rauner picked for his transition, which included only one Chicago-area education leader — Chicago International Charter School CEO Beth Purvis.

Jackson leads Pritzker’s committee with co-chairs state Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) , state Rep. Emanuel Welch (D-Hillside), and Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin.

“We must acknowledge the fact that not every single student and every community has access to the same education, and we intend to fix that, not only in our great city, but throughout the state of illinois,” Jackson said.

However, Jackson, Pritzker, and others warned that equity will be hard to come by unless the state bridges the gap between what it invests in K-12 education and what the state has acknowledged that districts need to provide every child a quality education.

The committee of mostly Democrats was notable not only for its members, but also for whom it omits. Pritzker skipped over Illinois state school board chief Tony Smith, who chaired Rauner’s education transition team.

Earlier this month, Pritzker defeated incumbent Rauner by 15 points in one of the most expensive gubernatorial races in U.S. history. The next day, he added two big names in education to his transition team: former Chicago Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz and early-childhood expert Barbara Bowman, co-founder of the Erikson Institute and mother of Valerie Jarrett, who was former President Barack Obama’s senior adviser.

From early childhood to beyond, Pritzker will face a host of critical public education issues once he takes office in January, including the mental health needs of students and teachers, to a dire educator shortage, to finding the funding required to help the state’s struggling districts while tackling poverty and racial gaps in education. Pritzker said in interviews with Chalkbeat and WBEZ that he supports an elected school board for Chicago, opposes school vouchers, and would impose a moratorium on charter school expansion.

At Melody on Tuesday, Pritzker said, “I’m not opposed to charter schools existing, but at the moment, we have enough.” He stressed that the state should take a closer look at how it’s managing current charters and should focus more on the K-12 funding gap.

As expected, Pritzker’s transition team also draws from advocates of early childhood education, which he supported philanthropically before taking office.

Among those are Christina Pacione-Zayas and Aisha Ray, both veterans of the pioneering Erikson Institute; Phyllis Glink, co-chair of the public-private partnership responsible for steering much of state policy directed at early education; and University of Chicago author James Heckman, whose research into the benefits of quality early experiences undergirds many of the economic arguments for investing public dollars in quality infant, day care and universal pre-K.

Here’s the roster of Pritzker’s Educational Success Committee:

  • Michael Amiridis, chancellor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Carmen Ayala, superintendent, Berwyn North SD 98
  • Christine Benson, retired superintendent, Mendota High School
  • Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, state senator, Illinois General Assembly
  • Dale Chapman, president, Lewis and Clark Community College
  • Brent Clark, executive director, Illinois Association of School Administrators
  • Fred Crespo, state representative, Illinois General Assembly
  • Will Davis, state representative, Illinois General Assembly
  • Larry Dietz, president, Illinois State University
  • Kenneth Ender, president, Harper College
  • Jennifer Garrison, superintendent, Sandoval CUSD 501
  • Phyllis Glink, executive director, Irving B. Harris Foundation
  • James Heckman, professor, University of Chicago
  • Ed Hightower, executive director, Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities Foundation
  • Kimberly Lightford, state senator, Illinois General Assembly
  • John Miller, vice president, Illinois Federation of Teachers
  • Mary Morten, board chair, Safe Schools Alliance
  • Zena Naiditch, president and CEO, Equip for Equality
  • Ginger Ostro, executive director, Advance Illinois
  • Kevin O’Mara, professor, Concordia University
  • Cristina Pacione-Zayas, policy director, Erikson Institute
  • Sylvia Puente, executive director, Latino Policy Forum
  • Aisha Ray, retired professor, Erikson Institute
  • Mimi Rodman, executive director, Stand for Children Illinois
  • Kevin Rubenstein, president, Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education
  • Jane Russell, vice president, Illinois Federation of Teachers
  • Juan Salgado, chancellor, City Colleges of Chicago
  • Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott, president, Chicago State University
  • Gloria Trejo, principal, Pioneer Elementary School
  • Maria Whelan, president and CEO, Illinois Action for Children
  • Barbara Wilson, executive vice president for academic affairs, University of Illinois System