Prominent U of C professor named No. 2 in Chicago Public Schools

February 11, 2011

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Sociologist Charles Payne (left) at Fiske Elementary School in Woodlawn. (WBEZ/ Linda Lutton)

A prominent University of Chicago professor was named Number 2 at Chicago Public Schools today. Urban education expert Charles Payne will only serve as Chief Education Officer until a new mayor takes over, but that didn't stop him from setting out an ambitious agenda today. 

He’ll be re-writing the district’s 10-year old education plan, which will determine budget decisions and priorities into the future. And he plans to tackle the thorny issue of how to evaluate teachers and how to better train leaders for schools.

Payne says one of his first goals will be to bring together groups of stakeholders in education that don’t normally talk to each other—big business and unions, for instance, who differ widely in their beliefs about how to improve schools. Payne said Harold Washington did the same thing in 1987.

"He just forced, by the power of his personality—folk who could not sit at the same table and abide one another to do so. And the changes which have come in Chicago—the good changes over the last decades—grew indirectly out of that process."

Payne says he wants to re-engage community organizations and universities in improving schools; he said the city's community organizations are overlooked treasures with deep interests in youth development.

Payne says he and interim CEO Terry Mazany share a common vision of education. 

"Academics are central, but academics are not the whole story. We have to think in a much more holistic way than some of us have done in the last decade or two," Payne said.

Payne said the city’s schools have been making incremental improvements for the past 20 years—and he believes several urban school districts, including Chicago, are poised for a dramatic breakthrough.

The position Payne fills has been vacant since July, when Barbara Eason Watkins left the district. Payne is the author of the 2008 book “So Much Reform, So Little Change”—which looked at why improving urban schools can prove so difficult.

UNFILTERED AUDIO: Click on EXTRAS below to hear unfiltered audio of Mazany and Payne at a Fiske Elementary School press conference this morning.