‘Will we rise to the occasion?’ Mayor Lori Lightfoot issues a challenge to Chicago school administrators two weeks from start of school.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that one of the toughest questions she faced on the campaign trail came from a graduating senior at Whitney Young High School, who asked at a student-led candidates forum: “What are you going to do in the next four years to convince me I should come back to Chicago, and make Chicago my home?”

Lightfoot, reflecting on the question Friday during a speech at the school district’s fifth annual administrators summit about three weeks after her inauguration, asked the same of the hundreds of principals, assistant principals, and teacher leaders sitting before her. 

“Of course it was an intentionally provocative question,” she said, to laughs. “But it’s the right question, it’s what we should all be focused on. What are we doing every single day, each of us, in our own way, to make our city better, stronger, fairer for young people to be able to thrive?”

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The mayor holds vast power over Chicago schools, from control of the district’s budget and strategic priorities to decisions about district leadership and school board appointments. Friday’s event put her on stage in front of the school leaders charged with administering Chicago’s more than 600 schools. 

Chicago Public Schools held the event at the city’s Symphony Center for school leaders to rally and plan ahead of the new school year around the vision of an equitable school district.  

Also in attendance were decision makers who help steer the district, including schools CEO Janice Jackson, Chief Academic Officer Latanya McDade and school board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland, whom Lightfoot appointed earlier this summer after completely overhauling the previous mayor’s board.

For weeks, most of the focus on Lightfoot in the education sphere has been whether she would be able to resolve contentious contract talks with the Chicago Teachers Union. She’s also pledged to reconsider how much money Chicago spends for students and campuses with the most need, promised to bring hundreds of additional school support staff to the district and, with Jackson, announced a $7.7 billion budget, a 1.5% increase over last year.

Chalkbeat and other media members attended the start of the administrators event before being ousted by the mayor and the district’s communication teams. 

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Lightfoot said convincing graduates to build lives and raise families in Chicago hinges on how well the district prepares students for well-paying jobs and the opportunity for social mobility. She said she and Jackson are committed to bringing resource equity to the district to ensure that schools have the support they need, characterizing the district as “the most important institution in our children’s lives.”

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“What can we do to strengthen the lives of our children so that they grow up with hope and inspiration in their heart — not fear, not trauma, but hope and inspiration?” she said. “Our children’s eyes are on us…will we rise to the occasion?”

Lightfoot emphasized the importance of schools and city officials collaborating, and offered advice to help educators weather the stresses of their job.

“Think about the necessity of self-care, and how you can embrace that need, to make sure that you’re doing everything that you can to be strong and supportive of our kids, our families, our teachers and all the support personnel that go into making the classroom environment as productive as possible and as nurturing as possible for our children,” she said.

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The mayor also praised Brooks College Prep seventh-grader Alannah Stanley, who delivered a powerful performance of the national anthem to rave reviews Friday morning.

“There are so many amazing children in the city who are doing incredible things every single day,” she said to the administrators, using Stanley as an example. “You know this because you see it in the classroom. But we need to make sure we tell the stories of those children every single day.”