CPS CEO lets loose about CTU: ‘Right now, the politics in education are ugly’

Janice Jackson, who announced her resignation Monday, said the district’s constant battles with the Chicago Teachers Union contributed to her decision to leave the district.

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Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson

Sun-Times file photos

Unshackled by her decision to call it quits, Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson let loose on Monday about the “ugly politics” that have consumed the district’s relationship with the Chicago Teachers Union and made her job more difficult while complicating the search for her replacement.

At a City Hall news conference that marked her declaration of independence, Jackson openly acknowledged that she had grown weary of having to do battle with the CTU at virtually every turn.

Those tensions triggered the 2019 teachers strike that saw Mayor Lori Lightfoot talk tough but cave in to most of the union’s demands and nearly led to a second strike earlier this year when it came time to reopen schools after a year of remote learning triggered by the pandemic.

“Right now, the politics in education are ugly,” Jackson said. “I think they’re misplaced and they should not get the coverage that they get. I’m making a distinction between what you sometimes hear from CTU leadership and what average rank-and-file teachers want every day.

“All of the issues that they care about I completely agree with,” said Jackson, who said she had a good working relationship in private with union president Jesse Sharkey that didn’t carry over publicly. “ ... The tactics that are used, I don’t agree with. And I do think that they make it difficult for good people to do these jobs.”

CTU spokeswoman Chris Geovanis responded to the departing shot from Jackson in a text message to the Sun-Times.

“When the mayor, a politician, is in control of schools, public safety, housing, transportation and nearly every aspect of life in our city, of course it’s political. How can it not be political?” Geovanis wrote.

Jackson said she gets emails all the time from teachers who say they don’t agree with the hard-line positions their union is taking or the harsh rhetoric emanating from CTU leadership. But, she lamented the fact that “nobody’s speaking” out against CTU leadership.

“It’s ugly and it needs to stop and it doesn’t help our district,” Jackson said. “CPS is an outlier. It’s not normal. And I hope that it changes for the sake of our children because the people who benefit the least from all of that are the children at CPS.”

What CPS needs most of all, Jackson said, is for parents to “be in the driver’s seat.” That means more parents need to step up. And when they do “advocate for their children,” Jackson said it can’t be “drowned out with the politics.”

Jackson credited her Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade and Chief Operating Officer Arne Rivera, both of whom also are departing, for having “kept me going despite some of those challenges.”


Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a press conference announcing the resignation of Janice Jackson as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools at City Hall in the Loop, Monday, May 3, 2021.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Lightfoot: Departure an ‘opportunity’

Lightfoot has said she expects her contentious relationship with CTU — which backed her runoff opponent, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — to continue until the 2023 mayoral election, when she expects the CTU to field a challenger against her.

That frank assessment and Jackson’s departing remarks about CTU politics will complicate the search for Jackson’s replacement at a time when the top three leadership positions at CPS will be vacant.

But the mayor, who is finding it increasingly more difficult to hold on to her appointees, on Monday tried to portray the glass as half-full.

Although she praised Jackson to the hilt and lamented her departure, Lightfoot said the changing of the guard at CPS creates a tremendous “opportunity” for the nation’s third-largest school system.

Lightfoot said there is a “very strong group of leaders” across the country in public education and there is also a “massive team at all levels of CPS” built by Jackson, McDade and Rivera. The mayor promised to search “far and wide” — both inside and outside CPS —for Jackson’s replacement.

“Yes, there are big shoes to fill. But I don’t think we’re gonna miss a beat,” the mayor said.

“Stability is very important to me and stability is what we’re gonna get.”

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