Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, will overturn the city’s appointed school board before its next meeting in June, board President Frank Clark told a gallery of observers at Wednesday’s monthly meeting.
After four hours of deliberations and presentations, and some questioning over a $135 million curriculum proposal, the otherwise pro-forma board meeting ended with Clark’s mic drop: “It’s our last meeting. Really truly thank you, it’s been an honor.”
The seven board members, all appointed at some point over the past eight years by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, oversaw and, in many cases, supported some of the most landmark changes in Emanuel’s tenure, including a 20-percentage point climb in graduation rates and the nation’s largest single round of school closings.
Schools chief Janice Jackson thanked Clark for his service, and said working alongside the board had made her a better leader. “I have felt both challenged and supported in this role. You all have served with integrity, and pushed us to be better,” she said.
As Clark made his announcement, district staff filed into the room and, at one point, gave a standing ovation to the outgoing board members.
Board member Mahalia Hines, who was chosen by Emanuel in May 2011, thanked Clark for his work, and thanked the former mayor for appointing her to the role. Hines also had a special message for the parents who use the public comment section at each board of education meeting to press the board for more resources and, sometimes, to make the outright case that their children’s schools should stay open.
“I want to say thank you to all of the parents who come and take their time to be here. You have helped me to grow,” said Hines. She also commended Jackson, who will continue in her role as schools chief under Lightfoot. “You’re not just saying you are putting children first, you live it.”
A former federal prosecutor who spoke often about how her mother served on the elected school board in her Ohio hometown, Lightfoot campaigned on a promise of supporting the switch from a school board appointed by the mayor to one selected by the public. Such a change requires legislative approval.
In advance of Wednesday’s meeting, vocal members of a parents’ group that supports a state bill that would establish a 20-person elected school board began posting on Twitter that they were disappointed that Lightfoot had not overturned the existing board in her first few days in office.
Lightfoot was sworn in Monday. In her inauguration speech, she spoke about education as one of four priority pillars for her incoming administration. On Tuesday, she said she officially planned to retain schools chief Janice Jackson.
Meanwhile, a bill that would establish a 21-member elected school board has stalled in the Illinois Senate after passing the House. A coalition of legislators, teachers’ union representatives, and parents groups support the measure. But Lightfoot has described the proposal as a “recipe for chaos and disaster” because of its size and has asked for time to study the issue more.
Heather Cherone of the Daily Line contributed to this report.
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