education power players

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

PHOTO: Adeshina Emmanuel/Chalkbeat Chicago
In November, Jackson was chosen to co-chair an advisory group formed by Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker to build and support his education agenda over the next four years.

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

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.