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Chicago mayoral hopefuls pitch ideas to draw black teachers to CPS

From left to right, mayoral candidates Willie Wilson, La Shawn Ford, Lori Lightfoot, Paul Vallas, Toni Preckwinkle, Amara Enyia, John Kozlar and Bob Fioretti, participate in a forum at Malcom X College. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Eight mayoral candidates agreed on Saturday that the Chicago Public Schools system needs a drastic influx of black teachers.

How to get there is a different story.

“I think it’s really important that our young people have role models that look like them,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said at an NAACP forum hosted at Malcolm X College. “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

About 37 percent of CPS’ 361,000 students are African American, compared to just 21 percent of its 21,000 teachers, according to district data.

Preckwinkle tied the dearth of black teachers to a rise in charter schools that “have no commitment to diversity.”

State Rep. LaShawn Ford said he’d push to eliminate the appointed school board that “doesn’t care about the teachers that are in CPS.

“The Chicago Public Schools system is racist, it discriminates, and it has destroyed many black teachers’ careers,” Ford said. “The shame of it is CPS tells families that we have a few good schools and you’ve got to get into the lottery to go to them.”

Attorney John Kozlar said he’d start by hiking starting salaries to draw more teachers of color. But he’d push to require a majority of educators to live in the neighborhood where they teach, to ensure students learn from teachers with similar backgrounds.


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Austin Chamber of Commerce director Amara Enyia said the exodus of black teachers hasn’t only been about equitable pay. Fostering a good environment that treats black teachers well and gives them an incentive to stay is important, she said.

“You have to retain teachers, not just bring them here,” Enyia said. She suggested connecting with feeder universities to recruit black teachers.

Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot proposed creating a pipeline for future teachers by building education curriculum into the city’s high schools.

Paul Vallas, former CPS CEO, said he would work to create apprenticeship programs for students coming out of high school to become teachers. Vallas also proposed career-changer programs and said he would recruit nationally to increase ranks of black teachers.

Businessman Willie Wilson said he would work to integrate a school system he views as segregated, and former alderman Bob Fioretti said he would work to create scholarships for students to get education degrees and become teachers.

All 14 candidates on the ballot were invited to Saturday’s forum, but six candidates — Gery Chico, Bill Daley, Jerry Joyce, Garry McCarthy, Susana Mendoza and Neal Sales-Griffin — did not attend. Leaders with the NAACP chapter said Chico and Mendoza had “previous engagements” but did not explain the rest of the absences.