Former CPS chief Janice Jackson rules out running for mayor

“Absolutely not. I do not want to be the mayor of Chicago. ... I have no interest in that job right now,” said Jackson, CEO of Hope Chicago, a non-profit that funds post-secondary education for urban students. “I’m an educator.”

SHARE Former CPS chief Janice Jackson rules out running for mayor
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and former Elgin schools superintendent JosŽ Torres listen as former Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson speaks to reporters after Lightfoot named Torres interim CEO for CPS during a news conference at Richardson Middle School on the Southwest Side, Monday afternoon, June 14, 2021.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson speaks to reporters in June after Mayor Lori Lightfoot (left) named Jose Torres (right) as interim CEO of CPS.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said Friday she has no interest whatsoever in running for mayor, even though former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s decision to take a pass has left the field wide open for potential challengers.

“Absolutely not. I do not want to be the mayor of Chicago. You can play that a million times. I have no interest in that job right now,” said Jackson, CEO of Hope Chicago, a non-profit created to fully fund post-secondary education for thousands of inner-city students.

After eight years working closely with two mayors — Rahm Emanuel and now Lori Lightfoot — Jackson said she knows “what the job is and that’s just not in my pathway.”

“I’m an educator. I understand politics. I love politics. I want to support the mayor who’s currently leading this city and anybody who’s in that position leading the city. But I have no interest in doing that,” Jackson said.

“What I really care about most — besides my faith and my family — is education. If I’m distracted doing all this other stuff that has nothing to do with education, I don’t personally think I’m gonna be happy. So, no. I have no interest in that job. And I’m supporting Mayor Lightfoot.”

In announcing her resignation from CPS, Jackson bemoaned the toxic relationship between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools that made her job — difficult under the best of circumstances — infinitely worse.

Since then, a dispute between those two sides over coronavirus safety mitigations led to five days of canceled classes.

Jackson said from the sidelines, she sees a glimmer of hope that tensions may be easing somewhat.

“I was very proud of Mayor Lightfoot basically saying, ‘We’re not closing schools’ and really taking a firm stance on that. I know, politically, that’s hard. I’ve been there during those deliberations,” Jackson said.

“I do think that CTU is paying more attention to what the public is saying. And they’ve had to be more accountable than they’ve had to be in the past. … CTU leadership was put in check by the people that they serve — the students, the families and the rank-and-file teachers. … There seems to be a bit more civility.”

Jackson, a former CPS graduate, taught for five years at South Shore High School before becoming founding principal of Al Raby School for Community and Environment, then principal at Westinghouse College Prep.

Those two stints as a principal are the best jobs she’s had, she said. “You are right at the nexus. You get to influence policy, but you’re with kids every day.”

But Jackson said she’s concerned about a pending bill in Springfield that would empower principals to unionize.

“I worry about that, mainly because our principals have been a key lever for improvement in Chicago,” Jackson said.

“If principals are unionized, I worry that some of the innovation and progress that we’re able to do without all of the extra stuff will go away. And ultimately, our kids are the ones who won’t benefit from that.”

Jackson argued that organizations like the Chicago Public Education Fund have done a “phenomenal job advocating for principals’ needs,” while still “allowing them to be managers and supervisors.”

She added: “When they start to unionize, they’re gonna give up a lot of the authority they have. I just don’t know how you run a district this large without a set of managers at the local level.”

Jackson also expressed concern about the departure of high-ranking African-American department heads under her replacement, newly-appointed School CEO Pedro Martinez.

“I was very proud of the fact that we had five African-American men in cabinet-level leadership at CPS. We’ve never had those kinds of numbers,” Jackson said.

“Representation matters. When you look at the data in Chicago, Black kids are always at the bottom. And you can’t fix that without having Black leaders there. I know, as a Black leader at the table the conversations I had to shift and the things I had to advocate for people to see our children. We need Black leadership at the senior levels at CPS.”

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