Rahm’s high bar for new City Colleges chief: 25% graduation rate

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Newly-appointed City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado at Friday’s news conference at Harold Washington College. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and retiring Chancellor Cheryl Hyman look on. (Photo by Fran Spielman)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday established an ambitious goal for his new City Colleges chancellor to achieve: a 25 percent graduation rate by 2019 in a system that graduated just 7 percent of its students when he took office.

The mayor’s goal, if Juan Salgado can reach it, would be a nearly 50 percent improvement from the current graduation rate of 17 percent. But, it won’t be the only performance measure by which the boss judges his new, $250,000-a-year chancellor.

“Do you come out of Kennedy-King in [with a certificate in] culinary and hospitality and are you able now to start your own bakery or get a job at one of our restaurants or hotels? If you’re getting trained on the new cyber-security [program] at Wright Community College, is KPMG looking at you?” the mayor said during a news conference at Harold Washington College called to announce retiring Chancellor Cheryl Hyman’s replacement..

“So, there’s a graduation rate. There’s an employment rate. There’s a going-on-to-a-four-year-institution rate. And we’re gonna look at all of those and set our benchmarks and hold ourselves accountable.”

Salgado, CEO of Instituto del Progreso, said all of the right things when asked whether a 25 percent graduation rate was too high a hurdle for the seven City Colleges.

“I’m a believer in the power of what people can do when they coalesce and they work together and they put their absolute energy behind each other. I’m a believer in that. I have seen students do amazing things in their life — academically and otherwise. So, I don’t think any goal is too high. When human beings are challenged to meet goals and supported along those lines, they get there. So, I’m not afraid of any goal.”

Tony Johnston, president of the Cook County College Teachers Union that represents nearly 600 full-time faculty members, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about Salgado after the new chancellor described himself in a Chicago Sun-Times story disclosing his appointment as a “relationship-builder” who knows how to “listen well” and “share leadership and ownership.”

“I see him as a very positive change. … He obviously recognizes and has heard through the interview process that there were issues that faculty had with Cheryl Hyman. I take those comments as him wanting to address those issues and those conflicts,” Johnston said.

“It’s admirable to set lofty goals. If he works collaboratively with the faculty and staff and goes with a shared governance approach, we can do very good things in City Colleges. But, we do need to reverse some of the negative policies of re-invention.”

Four months before retiring Chancellor Cheryl 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.

If Salgado wants to blaze a new and more collaborative trail, Johnston said he can start by meeting with the Faculty Council and reversing some of Hyman’s more controversial initiatives.

“The tuition change that happened in July, 2015, which incentivizes full-time over part-time students. And the consolidation of programs at one location. I would like to see him address those two things in particular. And also cutting off of the last week of registration,” he said.

It’s not easy for a Chicago mayor to replace an African-American woman with a Hispanic man in one of the city’s highest-paid and highest profile leadership positions.

But, Emanuel chose Salgado after a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign by Hispanic community leaders who complained about the shortage of Hispanics around the mayor.

Park Board President Jesse Ruiz, Chicago Plan Commission Chairman Marty Cabrera and Craig Chico, executive director of the Back of the Yards Council made the argument that there was a shortage of Hispanics in government leadership and that City Colleges was the perfect place to fill the void because the largest chunk of students are Hispanic and Salgado is the perfect candidate.

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), former chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he is all for the mayor’s pick.

In fact, he expected African-Americans to take a back seat after Emanuel chose Eddie Johnson to replace fired Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

“We can’t get everything,” Brookins said.

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