Nearly half of CPS students are Latino. Should the next CEO be?

The City Council Latino Caucus urged Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a letter Tuesday to choose a Latino for the position.

SHARE Nearly half of CPS students are Latino. Should the next CEO be?
Preschool students eat lunch at Dawes Elementary, a Southwest Side school where 82% of children are Latino.

Preschool students eat lunch at Dawes Elementary, a Southwest Side school where 82% of children are Latino.

Ashlee Rezin García/Sun-Times

José Torres, Chicago’s new interim schools chief, is the second Latino to lead the district since the CEO position was created 26 years ago — the other also serving a short stint in an interim role.

And if it was up to the City Council Latino Caucus, that rare Latino representation in the CEO’s office would continue when a permanent hire is made later this summer.

“The appointment of Mr. José Torres is a step in the right direction for appropriate Latino diversity and parity to reflect a city where nearly a third are Latino residents,” the caucus wrote in a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday.

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“With Dr. Torres’s invaluable experience, the Latino Caucus believes he will lead CPS correctly through this critical transition. We urge you to make this acting appointment permanent or choose another Latino candidate to lead the next generation of CPS.”

The share of Latino students at CPS has grown from just over one-third in 2000 to nearly half the district today, making up the largest demographic group in the school system.

But over those two decades, there has only been one Latino CPS CEO, Jesse Ruiz, who served on an interim basis for four months in 2015. Ruiz, now the deputy governor for education, ordered an audit of CPS’ English learner program in his time at the helm.

At Torres’s introductory news conference this week, Board of Education President Miguel del Valle, who led the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus when he was a state senator, highlighted Torres’s work with Latino students in his previous roles, indicating he would support the appointment of a Latino CEO.

Del Valle toured the Elgin school district when Torres was superintendent, he said, and “one thing that I made sure I had an opportunity to see was his dual language programs.”

“And I was so impressed when I observed teachers and students in those dual language classes,” del Valle said.

Lightfoot said this week that Torres wouldn’t be a candidate for the permanent position. The search is ongoing, and the mayor expects to have finalists by the end of July.

The City Council Latino Caucus has been increasingly vocal about a shortage of Hispanics in the mayor’s City Hall cabinet and has also pushed Lightfoot to add more majority-Hispanic wards in the upcoming re-drawing of the electoral map.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), chairman of the Latino Caucus and Lightfoot’s former City Council floor leader, said commissioners and department leaders should be reflective of the fact that Latinos make up one-third of the city. He pointed out that only three of 28 members of the mayor’s cabinet are Latino.

“CPS is primarily made up of Latino students,” Villegas said. “So why can’t we have someone in charge that reflects the population that it represents?”

“Our community needs to be at the table and right now we’re not reflective of that. ... There needs to be a concerted effort by the administration to make sure our community is represented.”

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