Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he has “100 percent confidence” in interim Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, leaving little doubt that the rising star who replaced Forrest Claypool would be handed the $250,000-a-year job on a permanent basis.
Long rumored as the heir apparent, Jackson ascended to the top last Friday after Claypool resigned after being exposed by CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler as the architect of a “full-blown cover-up.”
The changing-of-the-guard at CPS was announced at a late-Friday-afternoon news conference that was almost like a funeral for Emanuel’s friend of nearly 40 years.
Until the ethics investigation that left his reputation in tatters, Claypool had built a sterling reputation as “Mr. Fix-It” — at City Hall, the CTA and the Chicago Park District.
The news conference included glowing tributes to Claypool. Jackson was there, but not allowed to speak. No questions were taken.
On Tuesday, Emanuel was asked whether Jackson would be handed the job permanently or whether there would be yet another nationwide search for a schools CEO.
The mayor never answered the question directly. But his glowing remarks left little doubt that Jackson would not carry the interim label for very long.
“I have 100 percent confidence in Janice Jackson, which is why I recommended to the board that she become acting CEO,” the mayor said.
“I was with her on the football field at Westinghouse when she was principal on the West Side,” Emanuel said. Jackson asked him to speak at commencement, and he agreed. The mayor added that he has “an amazing amount of respect for her. Forrest saw it instantaneously, which is why Forrest asked her to be the chief education officer.”
Jackson is Emanuel’s fifth schools CEO.
The first, Jean-Claude Brizard, was forced out shortly after the 2012 teachers strike. The second, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, went to prison. The third, then-Board of Education President Jesse Ruiz, held down the fort on a temporary basis after Byrd-Bennett became embroiled in a contract kickback scandal.
The fourth, Claypool, was done in by the lies he told and the cover-up he engineered in response to an ethics scandal, detailed in a report by Schuler to the CPS board.
The revolving door at a school system with serious financial problems and saddled with borrowing is hardly ideal. But Emanuel argued Tuesday that the timing for the shake-up was good.
“Janice Jackson takes over a Chicago Public Schools that was just rated by Stanford professor [Sean] Riordan as the best public schools in the United States of the top 100. She takes over also at a time when, fiscally, we’re stable and educationally excelling,” the mayor said.
“The good news is, she has a lifetime of knowledge in the public schools to build on that foundation and take it, for our students and our city, to the next level.”
Friday’s changing of the guard leaves African-Americans in charge of Chicago’s two most important agencies: the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Police Department.
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee, has hailed Jackson as the antithesis of Claypool, who alienated aldermen with his arrogant, aloof and unresponsive style and for refusing to appear before them to discuss CPS finances.
“She’s the anti-Forrest and she’s also an educator. She has instant credibility with CTU. At least they won’t be able to attack her with the label of not being an educator and, therefore, and not knowing what she’s doing in heading that organization,” Brookins told the Chicago Sun-Times last week.
“It helps a lot [that she’s black] because the majority of the kids in Chicago Public schools are black. It will also take away one of those criticisms that people tend to have that the CEO doesn’t care about the black children.”