Former Elgin School District Leader Named Interim CEO Of Chicago Public Schools

José Torres will replace outgoing CEO Janice Jackson, who leaves at the end of June. CPS hopes to name a permanent CEO by the end of July.

WBEZ
José Torres is expected to be named interim head of Chicago Public Schools. Courtesy of the Illinois Math, Science Academy / WBEZ
WBEZ
José Torres is expected to be named interim head of Chicago Public Schools. Courtesy of the Illinois Math, Science Academy / WBEZ

Former Elgin School District Leader Named Interim CEO Of Chicago Public Schools

José Torres will replace outgoing CEO Janice Jackson, who leaves at the end of June. CPS hopes to name a permanent CEO by the end of July.

José Torres, who spent two years in Chicago Public Schools a decade ago overseeing teaching and learning in 25 schools and then six years as superintendent of Illinois’ second largest school district, will serve as interim CEO for CPS.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle announced Torres’ appointment Monday afternoon. Pending board of education approval, he will serve beginning July 1 until they name a permanent CEO. Lightfoot said she hopes to have finalists for the job by the end of July. CPS CEO Janice Jackson is stepping down June 30 after serving as CEO for three and a half years. Lightfoot said Torres is not a candidate for the permanent position.

“At nearly every stage of his career, Dr. Torres has demonstrated his dedication to serving, Black, brown, and underserved students and our families,” Lightfoot said. “He values diversity and inclusion. And that has shown up in his leadership, his strategic focus and his hiring practices. … His stellar track record, and career and lived experience make him a great fit for this role.”

Torres retired last month after nearly seven years as president and CEO of the Illinois Math and Science Academy, a highly competitive public boarding school in Aurora. Jackson called him two days into his retirement to ask him to consider the interim job. He agreed and now has a set of three goals for his short stint in charge.

Those include working with parents and educators to ensure schools open this fall in person five days a week and not wasting “a single minute” this summer while trying to help students get ready for the fall. He said re-enrolling and re-engaging families after the pandemic is a priority. He specifically citied the youngest students and some older students who have “given up.” Torres made his remarks in English and in Spanish.

Lightfoot on Monday also reiterated her strong opposition to a bill that transitions Chicago from an appointed school board to an elected one. That bill is expected to face a final vote in the state House on Wednesday. It has already passed the Senate. In a change from an earlier statement, she predicted that the bill wouldn’t have any impact on the search for a new CEO because the first school board election isn’t slated until 2024. But she continued to rail against the bill as “ill constructed” and and called for the process to be slowed down to allow for more negotiations over the final product.

“I’m aware of the practical realities,” Lightfoot said, “but as the General MacArthur said, ‘I’ve only just begun to fight.‘”

Lightfoot and del Valle on Monday also named Maurice Swinney as interim chief education officer of CPS. Since 2018, Swinney has been serving as the school district’s first chief equity officer. In that role, he has worked to try to ensure resources are allocated equitably. He has also worked with schools to shed the name of racists and pick new names.

Swinney was a principal at Tilden High School before becoming a district administrator. He replaces LaTanya McDade, who is also stepping down this month.

For now, Torres and Swinney will be responsible for shepherding the school district through the summer as it gets ready to offer full in-person learning this fall. Also, in July, the school district will be finalizing its full budget, including the plan for renovations and building new schools. Typically, the Board of Education approves the budget at its August meeting.

The school district also has yet to lay out how it plans to spend the expected $1.8 billion in federal stimulus money. Jackson had said she will lay out a comprehensive plan, but it is unclear if she will do so before she leaves.

Torres worked in Chicago Public Schools after serving as an assistant superintendent for a large school district in Maryland.

Torres was an Area Instruction Officer, which is akin to current network officers. In this role, from 2006 to 2008, he supervised principals and coaches who worked to improve a set of 25 South Side schools.

Torres left Chicago to run Elgin School District 46, which has about 37,000 students, the majority of whom are Latino. The district has 53 schools spanning several suburbs.

While there, Torres is credited with starting a mentoring program for under-performing boys, creating an office of equity and social justice and implementing a dual language program. He sparked controversy when he implemented a grading scale for middle to high school students in which no student received a zero whether they performed work or not. Torres stepped down from the superintendent job in 2014.

Lightfoot on Monday also named Lindy McGuire as interim chief operating officer to replace the third top leader at CPS to recently announce a departure.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.