Under pressure to appoint more Hispanics to leadership positions, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has chosen prominent Hispanic community leader Juan Salgado to be the new, $250,000-a-year City Colleges chancellor.

“I am convinced and the board is convinced that I am the person this institution needs at this moment in time. I’m going to be an amazing candidate across the city,” said Salgado, CEO of Instituto del Progreso.

“I grew up at 125th and Ashland Avenue in a Mexican family speaking Spanish in what was then and is now an African-American community. … I’ve worked with every kind of immigrant group you can imagine. … I’m gonna be helpful to the mayor — not just as a great chancellor, but as a great ambassador to all communities — because deep down in my spirit, soul and faith, all students are what matters to me.”

Salgado replaces Cheryl Hyman, who announced last June that her tumultuous six-year tenure would end after a one-year transition that gave the seven-member board time to conduct a nationwide search for her replacement.

As with so many other nationwide searches, this one ended right back where it started: in Chicago.

In Salgado, Emanuel has chosen an entrenched and respected Hispanic political leader and immigrant advocate who was also a 2015 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” award fellowship that paid him $625,000 over five-years, with no strings attached.

He was chosen for using education and skill-building programs to empower those with low levels of education and language proficiency. According to the mayor’s office, Salgado runs the “largest citizen preparation program” in Illinois.

City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman is shown discussing her tenure last year, when she announced she was stepping down. | Sun-Times file photo

Salgado is no stranger to the mayor. He co-chaired U.S. Senator Dick Durbin’s campaign and was a member of Emanuel’s 2015 transition team. He is a mayoral appointee to the Chicago Park District board.

He was also the drowned-out moderator at a 2015 town hall meeting at the South Shore Cultural Center that was cut short after Dyett High School protesters stormed the stage and confronted Emanuel.

Emanuel said he chose Salgado because he’s “passionate about City Colleges” and a product of Moraine Valley Community College.

“He knows the importance–not just for the city, but most importantly for the students. They’re not just getting another two years’ of education. They’re getting an opportunity at a job and a career,” the mayor said Thursday.

“When Cheryl and I started, our graduation rate was at seven percent. It’s gone up to 17. World Banks called it the best college-to-career program in the United States….We’ve taken the dual credit/dual enrollment from 300 kids to a little over 4,000….Juan can use that foundation, deepen its roots and take it to the next level. He has an ability to help build on the progress we’ve made.”

Four months before Hyman announced her delayed resignation, faculty members took a vote of no-confidence in her.

They were alienated by the chancellor’s dictatorial management style, by program consolidations they viewed as callous and by a tuition increase that penalized part-time students who make up the backbone of the system.

After she called it quits, the Faculty Council that represents 600 full-time and several thousand part-time teachers issued a list of demands. They wanted:

  • A new chancellor with an “education background” who will work toward “shared governance.”
  • A halt to all “program closures, sunsets and consolidations” until faculty, students and administrators could participate in decision-making.
  • And the appointment of a provost and restoration of the Department of Academic Affairs at the district level that Hyman eliminated.

Asked Thursday how he plans to ease the unrest, Salgado talked about the difference between his style and Hyman’s.

“I’m a community leader. I’m a relationship-builder. I’m somebody who has known how to do that all of my life. I listen well. And I work with educational leaders. I do it now,” said Salgado, 48.

“We’re gonna hire a provost that’s gonna come from a pool of people that faculty has had a very strong voice in [screening]. I’m gonna work with the faculty as their leader. They’re gonna see me present, engaged, listening. Shared leadership and shared ownership is what I know how to do and what I’m looking forward to doing with the faculty at City Colleges.”

When former Mayor Richard M. Daley chose Hyman, faculty members had high hopes for a strong partnership with the former Orr High school dropout-turned-Olive-Harvey College student who left home to escape drug-addicted parents. It didn’t work out that way.

Cheryl Hyman was recommended for the chancellor post by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. | Sun-Times file photo

Salgado said Hyman ruffled feathers because she tried to “move the needle on greater graduation rates and ensuring that more people get certification so they can get economic value.”

He plans to do the same while growing the capacity of a colleges-to-career makeover that has prepared City Colleges students for jobs in growth industries.

“The school that I run, 54 percent of our students get some sort of college credential before they graduate from high school. We need to do that in every school because that saves students and families money and advances them into higher education,” he said.

“City Colleges students are exceptional students — not just academically. They are exceptional in how they are able to manage so many different life situations. We need to give them more tools in order to do that.”

Salgado was asked what he plans to do about the twice-stalled construction of a $45 million transportation, distribution and logistics center at Olive-Harvey.

“We’re gonna get out and tell our story to everyone so they understand this value proposition. We’re gonna push heavily. We’re gonna push hard because we have to. Peoples’ lives are at stake,” he said.

“As someone who spent some time doing community organizing and has relationships with people, I know how to do that.”