Janice Jackson was confirmed on Wednesday as the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, making her the first CPS graduate, teacher and parent in recent memory to lead the schools.
She’ll be paid $260,000 – a $10,000 raise over the last several schools chiefs.
The confirmation by a unanimous 5-0 Board of Education vote was all but certain, but that didn’t stop dozens of supporters — elected officials, ministers and former colleagues — from lining up at the school board’s meeting to sing the praises of the teacher and principal who becomes Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s fifth schools chief since 2011.
The same five present board members also voted, controversially, to petition the state to waive ethics rules, as well as change their own code, to permit the hire of their colleague and former mayoral aide Arnaldo Rivera as Jackson’s chief operating officer.
Jackson’s promotion was hastened by the ouster of the last two permanent CEOs: her predecessor forced out after covering up an aide’s ethics violation, his predecessor imprisoned in a CPS contract kickback scheme. She also was appointed to the schools’ charitable arm, the Children’s First Fund.
Jackson, 40, pledged to focus on academic progress, stabilizing district finances and “improving the integrity and public trust of Chicago Public Schools.
“By holding true to these commitments we will ensure that Chicago has the quality school system that it deserves,” she said. “But no role in CPS better prepares me than being a CPS parent. Know that in the CEO you have somebody who has experienced the district and owes all of my success to CPS, but I look at it through the lens of a parent.”
Chad Adams, principal of Sullivan High School, said the district that’s had eight CEOs in nine years craves stability.
“I can’t begin to explain how excited I am about Dr. Jackson’s leadership,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for us to have leadership that understands children and cares about children.”
Amid all the congratulations and actual singing by the choir of the Westinghouse College Prep High School Jackson founded and led, a few voices encouraged the new schools chief to listen to parents and other people on the ground.
“We are happy to see an educator leading the school district again,” said Raise Your Hand member Andrea Tolzmann, who thanked Jackson for firing high-priced consultants brought in by the previous CEO. Tolzmann advised the new boss to keep looking at private contracts that teachers and parents have complained about.
Catherine Henchek, a mother of a high school freshman at a special ed school, asked Jackson to slow down planned school closings so she could consider what communities really wanted.
“Dr. Jackson, you’ve been saying all the right things,” she said, “now do the right things.”
Others urged school board members to wait the mandated year for Rivera to join Jackson’s governing cabinet, despite credentials that include strong relationships with Jackson and Emanuel.
“I don’t believe that we should change these rules just because we don’t like them,” said Jeff Jenkins, an outspoken CPS parent and member of the Local School Council at Coonley Elementary. “I think it sets a bad tone and a bad tenor. I think Mr. Rivera is unquestionably qualified to hold that position however, I tell my kids… ‘we have to follow the rules’.”
“I believe he cares about public schools in the city of Chicago,” CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey said of Rivera, a former teacher, CPS budget director and education aide to Emanuel.
“However, he’s member of your board and you don’t hire a member of your own board directly afterwards. This is not an ethical check on him, it’s an ethical check on you,” he told the school board.
Rivera’s hiring awaits approval by the Illinois State Board of Education.