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MITCHELL: Top black leaders land in top spots — the hard way

Janice Jackson, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, will need the patience of a saint to deal with the black community’s distrust of the CPS system's leadership. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Janice Jackson, the Chicago Public Schools new CEO, has her work cut out for her.

It won’t be enough that she has a doctorate in education; that she founded two high schools, both on the West Side, or that she actually taught high school students at a struggling South Side School.

Jackson will need the patience of a saint to deal with the black community’s distrust of the Chicago Public School system leadership.

Although Jackson has been a champion of the public education system, in some quarters she will be blamed for the system’s past actions, especially when it comes to school closings.


For instance, Hal Baskin, co-founder of the Englewood Political Task Force, opposes Chicago Public Schools’ plan to close four schools in Englewood and build a $75 million dollar high school.

“The reality is we need a person that understands the dynamics in the black community, and that we need to keep black schools open and eliminate some of those contract schools and charter schools,” he said.

“If Janice is on that page, I think she would be a good person to head CPS. If she is not on that page, I can’t support her,” Baskin said.

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson speaks at a City Club lunch on Nov. 16, 2017. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Ironically, both Jackson and Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson were elevated into leadership roles after their predecessors were forced out amid scandal.

Former CPD Supt. Garry McCarthy was ousted from his post in the aftermath of the Laquan McDonald police shooting.

Johnson came up through the ranks from beat cop to district commander. He was named interim superintendent after Mayor Rahm Emanuel rejected the list of candidates presented by the Chicago Police Board.

Even though Johnson hadn’t even applied for the job, he was permanently installed as superintendent after a unanimous vote by the Chicago City Council.

Jackson is on a similar path.

Previously the Chief Education Officer, Jackson came to power only after Forrest Claypool was forced to step down in an ethics scandal.

But frankly, Jackson was more qualified for the top spot in the first place. Besides earning a doctorate, she was principal of two schools that she founded, Al Raby High School and Westinghouse College Prep.

On Tuesday, Emanuel expressed complete confidence in Jackson’s ability to lead CPS.

“I have 100 percent confidence in Janice Jackson, which is why I recommended to the board that she become acting CEO,” Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Fortunately for Emanuel, in her various education roles, Jackson gained allies in divergent camps.

Because like the police superintendent, Jackson is taking over at a time when old controversies are likely to reignite.

For instance, even though a large chunk of the African-American population has moved, some activists are still outraged over CPS’ plans to close schools.

Jackson was part of the leadership team that announced plans to close four “underutilized” Englewood high schools: Team Englewood, Harper, Hope and Robeson.

Like Johnson, the new school chief is someone who has devoted her career to serving the black community. Still, don’t expect activists to cut her any slack on this issue.

“I love black folks, and I would prefer an African-American being in that position at this time, but I can’t have an African-American hurting other African-Americans by not speaking up and not being the voice when they have been put in those positions,” Baskin told me.

Even with black people at the helm, trust isn’t a given.

But it would help if qualified African-Americans didn’t have to wait until someone screws up to get their shot.