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CPS chief touts grad rate, remains ‘fully committed’ to reaching deal with teachers

The graduation rate reached an all-time high, largely driven by African American students, CPS CEO Janice Jackson said.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson speaks after delivering an address at a City Club of Chicago event.
CPS CEO Janice Jackson speaks after delivering an address at a City Club of Chicago event on Thursday.
Syd Stone/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools’ five-year graduation rate is at an all-time high of 78.9%, a new CPS report shows.

“The progress that we made is important, especially for a large urban school system like Chicago Public Schools,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson said, touting the latest numbers at a City Club of Chicago luncheon on Thursday.

“The recent progress that we’ve made as a school district has been driven by African American and Latino students. ... But if we’re going to meet the ambitious goals that we’ve outlined in our five-year vision for Chicago Public Schools, we understand that there’s more work to be done.”

The rate, though up just slightly from last year’s 78.2%, is a 22-percentage-point increase from 2011.

African American students’ graduation rate was 73.3%, up 1.5 percentage points compared to 2018 — twice the increase of the district overall.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who introduced Jackson at the luncheon, called the graduation rate numbers “the latest in a string of successes and record-setting achievements.”

Jackson also dealt with the ongoing teacher contract talks in her speech, saying there’s “no reason” the city and the Chicago Teachers Union shouldn’t reach agreement in the coming weeks.

Her statements come after the Chicago Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the district’s $7.7 billion budget for the new school year amid a slew of complaints from various groups — including CTU.

The union on Monday had rejected the latest contract offer, which would increase teachers salaries by 16 percent over the next five years. That rejection effectively started a 30-day clock on how soon teachers could strike if no deal is reached.

“We’re not going to bargain in public,” Jackson said Thursday. “In my experience negotiating a contract in the past, I know that compensation is usually the biggest issue. So what makes me encouraged is the fact that we’re so close on compensation. It gives me a lot of confidence that we’re going to reach a deal pretty soon.”

Englewood’s new STEM high school also got a nod from Jackson, who said it symbolizes the district’s commitment to achieving equity across all schools.

“Englewood has had its fair share of hard times ... but today there’s a new chapter unfolding,” she said. “Parents are enrolling their children in record numbers. The neighborhood is rebounding. The city is invested. And people are staying.”

That school’s curriculum will focus on science, technology, engineering and math; the building is going up at 6835 S. Normal Blvd., on the former campus of the shuttered Robeson High School.

Initial CPS projections say 300 to 350 students, almost all from Englewood, will be in the first class of the open-enrollment school.

Jackson said she saw “lines wrapped around the campus” when students registered for the school.

“Kids are excited about the possibility of what’s to come, and maybe still are in disbelief that this is really for them,” she said.

Lightfoot and Jackson will be at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the high school on the first day of school Tuesday.