A former Chicago Public School teacher-turned-administrator who helped implement Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s signature plan for a longer school day will become the mayor’s top deputy for education.
Arnaldo Rivera, 34, replaces Beth Swanson, who resigned her $154,992-a-year job last week to become vice-president of strategy and programs for the non-profit Joyce Foundation.
Swanson played a pivotal role in negotiating an end to the 2012 teachers strike — Chicago’s first in 25 years. In fact, she replaced Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard at the bargaining table in a move that signaled Emanuel’s subsequent decision to dump Brizard.
Unlike Swanson, who spent much of her career with education-oriented foundations, Rivera earned his stripes in the trenches.
He spent three years teaching first grade at Walt Disney Magnet School, where he still serves on the local school council. Rivera’s wife still works there as a teacher and serves as one of two teacher representatives on the LSC.
After leaving the classroom, Rivera spent nearly six years as a school administrator, serving as a top deputy to both of Emanuel’s handpicked CEO’s: Brizard and Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
According to the mayor’s office, Rivera “led planning and execution outreach strategies” for Emanuel’s longer school day and oversaw the mayor’s prized expansion of International Baccalaureate programs.
Rivera also helped devise logistics for the 50 school closings that so alienated African-American voters who helped put the mayor in office.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Rivera argued that the gut-wrenching process of closing 50 schools “went relatively smoothly, despite a lot fanfare” and that parents and students were ready to turn the page.
“There’s been a lot of good data and feedback from the community,” he said.
“You’re never going to please everyone. But, as someone who oversaw previous efforts, the closing process has been relatively successful. People started to move forward. That’s not to say there aren’t hard feelings. But people realize that, in order to ensure that kids and communities that need support get it, we need to put animosity and tensions aside to provide quality educational options for those kids.”
Rivera has spent the last year as chief operating officer for the Chicago Public Education Fund. That’s a fund that bankrolls many of the education reforms near and dear to the mayor, including teacher training and principal development.
He takes over the job of executing the mayor’s education agenda as Emanuel gears up for a potentially difficult re-election bid that could focus heavily on school issues, particularly if Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis jumps into the mayor’s race.
The changing-of-the-guard at City Hall comes at a time when the teachers contract and pension crisis remain in limbo and just two weeks after Emanuel signed off on a $6.8 billion school budget with an accounting gimmick right out of his predecessor’s playbook.
It not only raises property taxes by $33.5 million — the maximum allowed by law for the 16th time in 21 years. It also uses 14 months of property tax revenue to pay for 12 months of spending and banks hard on elusive pension reform from Springfield.
The Chicago Teachers Union has accused the mayor of playing politics with the school budget to get past the Feb. 24 mayoral election.
A City Hall press release announcing the appointment said Rivera would be responsible for coordinating the mayor’s education policy agenda “from early childhood through the City Colleges,” now implementing a colleges-to-careers overhaul.
“As a former teacher, Arnie understands the critical issues facing Chicago classrooms and will help to further our efforts to ensure every student has access to a high-quality public school education,” the mayor was quoted as saying.
“While we have seen incredible success in academic achievement and an expansion of high-quality education options over the last three years, I’m excited to welcome Arnie to the team to help carry those gains forward.”