Chicago swears in new members to city’s last fully appointed Board of Education

A photo of two empty seats for Chicago’s school board members on shared dais. In front of the seats is the table part of the dais. Behind the seats is a gray, matte, and square sign. In the middle of the sign is a circle with a hand holding a torch inside. Above the circle is the words “Board of Education,” curved around the circle. Below is the circle is the words “City of Chicago,” also curved. Wrapping around the words in a half circle is a laurel.
Chicago’s Board of Education logo is pictured behind two empty seats. Most of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s new board appointees were sworn in on Wednesday. (Max Lubbers / Chalkbeat)

Chicago’s Board of Education ushered in a new era of leadership Wednesday by swearing in five of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s appointees.

The new members, who include vocal critics of the system, took an oath of office during a meeting to review agenda items ahead of the board’s full meeting next week. They will be part of the last fully appointed board before it shifts to an elected body in 2025.

As board members introduced themselves, Mariela Estrada, director of community engagement at the United Way of Metro Chicago, recounted being a “fierce” parent advocate. New board president Jianan Shi, former executive director of influential advocacy organization Raise Your Hand, noted that he is the first educator appointed as board president. 

“I am used to sitting on your side of the glass fence,” new board member Mary Fahey Hughes told the audience at the meeting. Fahey Hughes formerly worked for Raise Your Hand as a parent liaison for special education and is an outspoken advocate for students with disabilities.

The inclusion of board critics at the decision-making table is in some ways similar to Johnson’s path, who rose to power through his teachers union ties.

Earlier this month, Johnson nearly cleaned house by appointing six new board members, who come from advocacy, philanthropy, and business backgrounds. In addition to Shi, Estrada, and Fahey Hughes, the mayor also tapped Michelle Morales, Rudy Lozano, and Tanya Woods (read more about each here). Lozano and Morales were not present at Wednesday’s meeting; a spokesperson for CPS did not explain why but said they will be sworn in at the board’s July 26 meeting. 

The only holdover from former Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration is Elizabeth Todd-Breland, who will be the board’s vice president. 

All seven members’ terms end Jan. 1, 2025, when the city’s partially elected, 21-member school board will be seated. Several members highlighted that shift. Todd-Breland called her term a “bridge” to that elected board with “so much hope and optimism for Chicago Public Schools.” 

Wednesday’s agenda review meeting was the third of its kind, allowing board members to publicly ask questions about agenda items ahead of the meeting where they’ll vote. 

During the meeting, members reviewed and asked questions about a slew of agenda items expected to come up for approval next week, including a new agreement for marketing services, the opening of a comment period for a new parental leave policy for CPS employees, and a renewed contract for math tutoring. 

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One agenda item — about X-ray machines in school — signaled a possible shift in approach that Johnson’s appointees may bring to the board.

Shi asked a school safety official whether there is research that such machines, which are meant to detect weapons, make schools safer. The official said it’s hard to determine exactly what makes schools feel safe, but that such machines have found weapons in the past. Last month, the old board approved a slightly costlier contract for campus police. 

Shi asked that district officials engage in “actual community dialogue” on school safety policies as the district continues work on its Whole School Safety initiative. The CPS official said it’s the district’s goal to get more “buy-in” from the community. 

Board members like Shi have also previously expressed interest in making meetings more accessible to the public, such as working parents who can’t attend the meetings that are held downtown during weekday mornings.

Reema Amin is a reporter covering Chicago Public Schools. Contact Reema at ramin@chalkbeat.org.

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