Education Questionnaire: Gery Chico

Gery Chico's education platform (pdf)

Do you want control of the Chicago Public Schools? If so, how should Board of Education members be selected? Should some of them be elected?

I do not support the idea of an elected school board.  I would not create 11 new politicians.  This isn’t about politics, it’s about doing the best job we can for our kids.  I believe the Mayor should be accountable for the success or failure of the public schools. 

Do you believe the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools should be an educator? Why or why not? What are the main qualities you would look for?

CPS is a $6 billion entity funded by taxpayer dollars.  It is necessary to have a Chief Executive Officer in order to ensure money is not wasted.  As Mayor of Chicago, I will support a structure for CPS using the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Education Officer model.  Together they will drive the system.

Should the School Board conduct a national search for a new schools chief?

Just as the Mayor is responsible for attracting the best companies to Chicago, the Mayor should also be responsible for bringing the best educational leaders to our city.  Not only will I conduct a national search for a new schools chief, I also will lead nationwide recruiting of the best principals and teachers in order to bring them to the Chicago Public Schools.

Chicago has the shortest school day among large, urban districts. What would you do about that?

Studies have proven that increasing the time spent learning leads to an improvement in student achievement.  As President of the Chicago Board of Education, I developed extended school-day programs that kept more than 125,000 children in school longer and expanded summer school opportunities which served as many as 175,000 children each summer.  Unfortunately many of these programs have now been scaled back or eliminated completely.  As Mayor of Chicago, I will work to extend the school day from a six-hour day to an eight-hour, and the calendar year from 176 to 200 days a year. 

CPS is looking at another enormous deficit for the 2011-2012 school year – under the teachers union contract, salaries are scheduled to rise another 4 percent, and federal stimulus money will be gone. How do you get out of that mess?

When I became President of the Chicago Board of Education in 1995, the system was on the verge of financial collapse, with a projected deficit of $1.3 billion.  When I left six years later, I transformed that deficit into a $344 million surplus.  During my time at the Board of Education, test scores rose each year, the Central Office was reorganized and downsized and budgets were repeatedly balanced.

Under my leadership we prepared a comprehensive long-range capital improvement plan that resulted in building more than 60 new buildings and renovating more than 300 buildings. 

Further, CPS’s bond ratings were reinstituted, then dramatically increased where there had not even been an investment grade prior to my leadership.  I’ve done it before, and I look forward to doing it again. 

Would you support the closing of low-performing and under-enrolled schools? Why or why not?

Our number one priority must be our children, and that they are getting the best education possible.  If a school is chronically under-performing or under-enrolled, despite efforts to address failures and challenges, changes must be made for the interests of the children.  Children’s lives don’t wait.  That said, we must take progressive measures that provide support to a school that is under-performing.  When it is clear that a school is chronically failing, we must have a process that will enable families, community stakeholders, and most importantly children an opportunity to transition smoothly. 

Would you support the continued expansion of charter schools in Chicago? Why or why not?

During my tenure at CPS, we were one of the first school systems in the country to embrace and open charter schools.  Furthermore during that time, the number of high-performing magnet schools dramatically expanded, and the public school system opened the nation’s first high school military academy.  These initiatives expanded opportunities for quality education, and resulted in unprecedented growth in the student population.

Do think it is it too hard to fire bad teachers who have tenure? If so, what do you think should be done about that?

Research shows that the most important influence on a student’s achievement is a high-quality teacher.  We must ensure that we have only the best teachers and principals in every school.  It is critical that teachers have the resources they need, the support they deserve, and that they be held accountable for their students’ academic growth.  If a teacher is struggling, we must provide them with the support and resources they need to improve.  That said, children’s lives don’t wait, and we must do everything we can to give them the quality instruction and guidance they deserve. 

While nothing is more helpful to a student than a great teacher, nothing is more harmful than a poor teacher.  Teacher promotion must be based on performance.  I will implement a research-based teacher evaluation system.  This evaluation system will be developed with the teachers’ union, will be fair, and will utilize the best developments in evaluation methods.  I will also implement a pay structure that ensures those teachers who are succeeding are adequately rewarded.  If a teacher is not able to succeed in the classroom, I will not hesitate to remove the teacher, regardless of rank.

Should seniority govern teacher layoffs? If not, how would you recommend that future layoffs be handled?

As addressed above, we must ensure that we have only the best teachers in the classroom with our children.  Seniority must be part of the equation in governing teacher layoffs, but it cannot be the sole criterion.  As Mayor of Chicago, I will implement a research-based teacher evaluation system.  This evaluation system will be developed with the teachers’ union, will be fair, and will utilize the best developments in evaluation methods. 

In New York and Los Angeles, controversy has erupted over whether teacher evaluations should be made public or shared with parents. Is that a good idea? Would you push to share evaluations with parents in Chicago?

Schools belong to parents, as taxpayers and as the source of our students.  They are entitled to and need a significant role in their children’s education.  Since children spend only 85 of their time from birth to age 19 in school and 92% at home, clearly parents have a major role as their children’s “first teachers.”  My education plan involves empowering parents to become partners with their schools and to have greater influence in the decisions that affect their children.  As Mayor of Chicago I will create a Parent Academy for every school.  These academies will serve as networking, resource and educational centers for parents, run by parents.  Part of empowering parents is giving them the information they need to make important decisions about their children and their education.

Do schools have a role in stopping youth violence?  If so, what should schools do, and how would you support their efforts?

School is the where children form many of the habits they carry with them throughout their lives.  Violence in and around the schools is on the rise.  An environment plagued by bullying, violence, and a lack of discipline is not conducive to learning.  Students are unable to learn, teachers are not focused on teaching and parents are deterred from sending their kids to public schools. 

As President of the Chicago Board of Education, my initiatives dramatically increased security in the schools.  As Mayor of Chicago, I will ensure our schools are safe places teachers can teach and children can learn.  We must evaluate and assess student behavior to identify problems early before they endanger teachers and other students.   We must also identify over-age but underachieving students, and place them into special transitional settings to separate them from the younger children while providing them with more intensive age-appropriate educational support services.  I will create effectively functioning alternative schools for disruptive or at-risk students by contracting with private providers and soliciting alternative school charters.  One of the biggest issues has become bullying among students.  I will prevent bullying by initiating a proactive anti-bullying program in all CPS schools, coordinated with relevant LGBT organizations and other social service agencies. 

Our parents, teachers and students must feel safe.  I have committed to putting 2,000 additional police officers on the streets everyday, and police officers will be added in and around those schools in need.

What would success with your education agenda look like at the end of your first term?

At the end of my first term as Mayor of Chicago, our school system will be educating and elevating our kids so that they are empowered to take advantage of opportunities in their future.  The Chicago Public Schools were a launching pad for my career, and I’m proud to have sent my own children to CPS schools.  As Mayor, I will take the successful experiences and lessons from my time as CPS President in the 90’s - and apply it to the current landscape.  By holding students, teachers, and parents accountable, we will improve the morale across our system, and see measurable gains in student achievement reflected in both test scores and graduation rates.  My education agenda, released several week ago lays out my plans in more detail, including among other things, giving all students laptops by the end of my first term, creating parent academies for every school, recruiting excellent teachers and principals, etc.  I intend to once again make CPS a stronger schools system that is equipped to help shape our children’s lives.