‘We must meet our educational challenges together’: What Lori Lightfoot said about schools on her first day as Chicago’s mayor

Speaking Monday before a jubilant crowd at Chicago’s Wintrust Arena just south of the city’s booming downtown, a steely and sometimes emotional Lori Lightfoot stressed that she will work to “put equity first in education” and to support educators, nurses, and other adults working to create a “safe and nurturing environment” so children can learn.

She also pledged to broaden opportunities for the city’s youngest learners as well as vocational options for teens for whom college may not be the right path.

The first black woman to be mayor of Chicago, Lightfoot gave a poignant inaugural speech that evoked the image of the city’s flag and her hope of “building and rebuilding” a city that has been divided by race, economic inequality, and violence.

She spoke about reinterpreting the four stars on the city flag as four pillars that will be the priority of her government: public safety, specifically an anti-violence strategy; education; fiscal stability; and integrity, starting with rebuilding trust between government and residents and ending aldermanic privilege — a section of the speech that drew rousing applause and shouts from the audience.

Below are her full remarks about education.

The second guiding star is education. We cannot attract families to Chicago, and keep families here, without providing a quality public education — for every child — and that means every single child. As a city, we make promises to our children. Most of all, we promise them an education – a safe, relevant, and challenging education that prepares them for meaningful work, civic engagement and lifelong learning. But whether we deliver on that promise often depends on where you happen to live. It’s time to give every child and young person a good education, to prove through our schools that we believe in them, that we support them — no matter who they are or where they live. That every child gets a quality education — that’s our business, no matter what. Someone said to me recently that children are a product of the adult ecosystem around them. And she was 100 percent right. Our words, our values, how we meet our commitments and rise to the occasion — it all matters. We’re shaping the future leaders of our city, and when we put equity first in our education system, when we make good on a promise that every kid matters, it will instill within our children the values we seek to foster in our city as a whole. That promise must begin early—that’s why we will work to expand early childhood education, and extend the promise of a good education through high school and college, and to every kid, no matter their path forward. Every student should have the option to pursue vocational and technical training. We will work with businesses and unions to set up apprenticeships for those who want to learn a trade. We will then connect Chicago’s employers with our job-ready students while they’re in school, so they can get to work the day they graduate. And we will support our great teachers, counselors, librarians, nurses and other support personnel who are essential to creating the safe and nurturing environment necessary for our children to grow, learn and thrive. Let me also say that I’m thrilled to see so many young people in the audience—my next few words are for you and all of your peers across the city: You have the most at stake in the city’s future, just as the city’s future most depends on you. We need your energy, creativity, intelligence, and dedication. There’s hard work ahead of us. But we will do that work, because we believe in you and in the vast, still- untapped potential of this great city. Our goal is simple: starting in our schools, we will create a citywide workforce as the pipeline for the jobs of today and tomorrow that will be the envy of the world. We are each other’s business. And we must meet our educational challenges together.

Her speech on Monday follows on the heels of her transition committee’s report, which was given Friday at Malcolm X on the city’s West Side. Here are the education priorities they recommended, and a copy of the full report.

And here’s what more than 300 Chalkbeat readers told us they hoped Lightfoot would consider about their schools as she takes office.