Chicagoans welcome Mayor Lori Lightfoot to City Hall — with big questions about schools

When hundreds of Chicagoans lined up Monday to shake hands with newly installed Mayor Lori Lightfoot, many of them had Chicago Public Schools on their minds — specifically the district’s infrastructure, the safety of its students, and how well it prepares its graduates for college.

Security guards at City Hall let in 10 visitors at a time for a brief meet-and-greet with Lightfoot, who earlier in the day delivered an inauguration speech, promising  to “put equity first in education.”

That’s a course Nicholas Foley, a junior at Lane Tech College Prep, can get behind. He said equity in education should be Lightfoot’s top priority. Schools on the city’s South and West sides need more funding, he said, but noted that he has also seen inequities closer to home, like at Schurz High School, where parents have complained about shoddy facilities.

“They had to fight in the community for years to get a tiny track adjacent to their school building,” he said. “But you go to Lane — we’ve got a boat house, we’ve got a stadium, we’ve got soccer fields — that right there is an example of how our school system is just not equitable enough.”

Related: What Lori Lightfoot said about schools on her first day as Chicago’s mayor

Foley, who comes from a family of educators, is also concerned with how the city and state meets its pension obligations to teachers.

Karen Clark, a city worker who lives in Beverly and has children at district high schools, is worried about “basic equity and resources, quality teachers and curriculum — and safety,” she said, “In some schools, students don’t feel safe.”

“The kids, I think they need to feel welcome, they need more activities and outlets inside of school that will make them want to stay there,” she said as she waited in line. “Pay more attention to schools that obviously need the help.”

Logan Square resident Oliver Camacho, co-host of the OperaNow! Podcast, said, “I would like to see the importance of arts education re-installed in public schools.” He suggested making after-school arts programming more robust and accessible city-wide.

Meanwhile, Tammy Thurman, a Louis University professor who lives in Morgan Park on the Far Southwest Side, said she is most concerned with how Chicago Public Schools get students ready “for that next step to college.” She said she sees students who are well-prepared and others who struggle. “[Lightfoot] talked a lot in her address about making sure the schools are properly resourced, and I hope that happens, however it’s manifested, so that by the time students get to me that they have had some of the same resources as their peers in better-funded elementary schools and high schools.”

Just ahead of Thurman in line was Toni Karrigan, a business owner who lives in Rogers Park.

She said there’s fertile ground for Lightfoot to ensure that parents and students feel that their voices matter because Chicago Public Schools “hasn’t always been a place where people have felt seen.”

“There are people who are always tapped, who are in the circle,” she said. “But if you were to extend the circle a little further out, there are a lot more people who would come up with some substantive ideas to look at revenue, to look at equity.”