Lori Lightfoot makes it official: She’s keeping Janice Jackson as Chicago schools chief

Following weeks of speculation about how she’d fill senior leadership roles, Chicago’s new mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday that she’ll retain homegrown schools chief Janice Jackson in the top job at Chicago Public Schools.

That decision was largely expected. Lightfoot said during the campaign that she recognized the need for stability atop schools. Until previous Mayor Rahm Emanuel named Jackson schools interim chief in December 2017 — she became permanent a month later — Chicago schools had been overseen by a seven schools chiefs in a span of five years. One left under a cloud of an ethics scandal; another ended up in prison.

Five days after the election, Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-Times that she “came away very impressed” in an early meeting with Jackson.

“She gets tremendous praise from people all over. I was at an event and a principal came up to me … as if on cue, she started talking about Janice Jackson. How great she was. Janice was walking toward us. I said, ‘Turn around and tell her yourself.’ That’s the kind of praise she gets at every level in the school system.”

Since the Feb. 26 general election put Lightfoot in a runoff, Jackson’s supporters have appeared at board of education meetings to stump for her in public.

“We’re going to keep our CEO,” said Darlene Obanner-Suttle, a Local School Council member at Earle Stem Elementary School in West Englewood, at a meeting the day after the runoff. “We don’t care about the elected school board.”

In Jackson’s first year as CEO, she’s wrestled with continued enrollment declines and revelations of a student sex abuse crisis and troubles in a special education program that violated students rights. She has also presided over another round of school closings, this time four high schools being phased out to make way for a new school in Englewood.

But she’s also won praise from educators and parents for bringing more stability to the system. She has delivered school budgets earlier, steered more money and programs to schools that sorely need them to attract new students, and released a five-year vision that articulates a central path toward improvement. One part of that is a massive curriculum initiative that will go before the school board on Wednesday.