Chicago Schools CEO Lays Out 5-Year Vision | WBEZ
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Chicago Schools CEO Lays Out 5-Year Vision Despite Election Uncertainty

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson on Tuesday laid out a vision for the school district for the next five years, even though Chicago’s next mayor hasn’t been chosen and it’s unclear if she’ll be schools chief after the April 2 election.

At Bronzeville Classical Elementary on the South Side, Jackson told a group of about 100 educators and parents that her vision is grounded in equity. “We will not realize our collective goals as a city unless we make sure the most vulnerable students in our city are meeting the same goals,” Jackson said.

Her top goal: Raising achievement levels for African-American and Latino male students. “We believe that if we focus on those two priority groups that all tides will rise and meet at the same level,” Jackson said.

Jackson has repeatedly touted rising graduation rate among African American males but a recent WBEZ analysis unearthed some data that calls that success into question. The investigation found the rise is partly tied to the large number of black families leaving Chicago and to a spike in black male students graduating from certain alternative schools that some charge are inferior.

Some of Jackson’s other goals include helping more students arrive at school ready to learn.

“Our goal is that at least 50 percent of our students enter kindergarten ready, based on the Illinois assessments for kindergarten readiness,” she said. Jackson also wants to increase the percentage of students passing freshman year to 90 percent by 2024, as well as increase the percentage of students graduating high school in five years also to 90 percent.  

Jackson said her team drafted the five-year plan after gathering input from educators and community leaders.

Tuesday’s vision rollout comes after a flurry of announcements recently by Jackson and outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He steps down in May after Chicago voters select a new mayor on April 2. Emanuel and Jackson announced a $27 million investment to expand preschool in 28 new communities and $32 million for academic and specialty programs at 32 schools. On Monday, CPS principals received their school-level budgets, with these increases embedded.

Chicago’s next mayor will have to live with Emanuel’s decisions, mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle told WBEZ.

“On your way out, kind of hamstringing your successor doesn’t seem to be an appropriate response,” Preckwinkle said. Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot, who faces Preckwinkle in the runoff mayoral election 2, didn't respond to a request for comment.

It’s unclear if Jackson will stay on as CEO after Chicago selects a new mayor. Preckwinkle has said wants to keep Jackson on the job. Her opponent Lori Lightfoot won’t say what she would do with the schools CEO position if she’s elected mayor.

When asked why Jackson didn’t wait for the next mayor to be chosen to unveil a five-year plan, her spokeswoman sent a comment that Jackson made in a previous interview with WTTW.

“The work that I've done over the past years as CEO of Chicago Public Schools is moving the district in the right direction, and I have no doubt that any candidate who is lucky enough to serve as the mayor of this city will see the benefit of that great work,” Jackson told the public television station. “At the end of the day, if you're a ninth grader in CPS, you've had eight CEOs during your tenure in CPS. I don't think anybody thinks change at the top is the way to bring about the kind of stability and certainty that our parents have said time and time again they want and I think they deserve."

Adriana Cardona-Maguigad covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @AdrianaCardMag.

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