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As mayor of Chicago, I will always be on the side of educational equity

My vision of equity comes from a very real place. I know what it means to go to a school that lacks the basics.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her wife Amy Eshleman pass out breakfast to Chicago Public Schools students at a teachers’ strike contingency site, the Gads Hill Center, on Friday, Oct. 18.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her wife Amy Eshleman pass out breakfast to Chicago Public Schools students at a teachers’ strike contingency site, the Gads Hill Center, on Friday, Oct. 18.
AP Photos

As a black child growing up in an economically challenged small town in Ohio, I know what it means to go to a school that lacks the basics.

We shared textbooks, and they were often worn and out-of-date. We went without modern tools of learning throughout my entire K-12, public school experience. I also look back with horror at the treatment that my classmates with different learning abilities received.

I loved my teachers, and they all worked hard to do the best they could with the resources they had. I was a conscientious student, but there were no extras, and I got little support in planning for college or a career.

I recall these things only to share with you that my vision of educational equity comes from a very real place. I know what it’s like to go without. My commitment, as I expressed during my campaign, is to supercharge efforts toward improving equity for our all of our students, but especially black and brown children, who have been left behind far too often.

Voters elected me because of my focus on equity, fairness and transparency in the processes of governing our city — whether it comes to the school board, the police department, the granting of contracts or the repairing of infrastructure.

Voters sent an unmistakable message that they were looking for a departure from “business as usual” — the old way where the well-connected and the wealthy came out ahead while entire swaths of our city sat ignored. I have been honored by your faith in me to take our city in a more equitable direction. We’ve taken steps down this path, but there is still a long journey to go.

One of the most important places where we must always strive to do better — in fact a fundamental place — is in our public schools. Not only do we owe this to our students, but we owe it to ourselves as a city. Good schools mean more families can put down roots in Chicago, re-building communities that just a few generations ago thrived, but more recently have languished.

The work to get our schools on the right path has already begun. It has begun with the dedication of teachers, staff and principals. It has begun with the love of parents and community leaders. And it has begun with the efforts over many years of people like Karen Lewis and Janice Jackson.

I want to build on these efforts. I believe teachers and staff should be well compensated, befitting their status as the nurturers and guardians of our children. I believe they deserve to be supported by their school district and their mayor. I believe that smaller class sizes are better. And that school nurses and social workers should not be luxuries granted only to some schools, but valued members of every school’s staff, regardless of zip code.

We have presented the Chicago Teachers Union with a contract that we believe reflects these values. I wish there were a way to achieve all of our goals overnight, but we are working to restore critical services by expanding necessary positions throughout all schools — prioritizing those in greatest need first — as quickly as possible, given budgetary restraints.

I am deeply disappointed that we were not able to reach an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union’s leadership before this work stoppage. I respect the collective bargaining process and the right of workers to organize and to strike. Still, I am committed to continuing the hard work to get through this. Our team will continue to work day and night to reach an agreement that puts teachers back in classrooms with a fair contract so our students can return to their normal schedules as soon as possible.

My goal is that parents and students at every Chicago public school — regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or income level — can receive the opportunities that families in wealthy suburbs can take for granted. CPS students deserve the chance to excel at sports and the arts. They deserve the opportunity to take the types of classes that will prepare them for college or a career.

My goal is to support our teachers so they can focus on their core mission, namely educating and nurturing our children. And I believe these goals are within reach.

Again, I am disappointed that the Chicago Teachers Union has decided to strike. I believe our contract offer is fair and respectful of the union’s leaders and their members. But my disappointment will absolutely not soften my resolve to reach an agreement.

As long as I am mayor, I will never stop fighting to make this a better city — one that values fairness, equity, and transparency. And in that spirit, the negotiations must continue.

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