Daley Names Team in Takeover of Chicago Schools

By Ann Bradley — July 12, 1995 4 min read
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Mayor Richard M. Daley has made the key appointments in his state-mandated takeover of the Chicago public schools--13 people assigned to plug the system’s $150 million deficit and improve education for its 410,000 students.

“Business as usual is over,” Mr. Daley declared as he announced the appointments late last month. “The special interests will have to move to the back of the line. The bureaucrats who stand in the way of change will be removed and their powers dissolved.”

As expected, Mr. Daley named his former chief of staff, Gery Chico, the president of the five-member “superboard” that will govern the schools for the next four years. After four years, a seven-member school board appointed by the mayor will run the system. (See Education Week, 6/21/95.)

Paul Vallas, a former city budget director, was named the school system’s chief executive officer.

Under the corporate-style structure created for the system this spring by the Illinois legislature, Mr. Vallas runs a management team that includes a chief education officer. That post went to Lynn St. James, the former principal of Chicago’s Lindblom Technical School.

Pat Harvey, a former elementary school principal who had been an assistant to General Superintendent Argie K. Johnson, was named the chief accountability officer.

Ms. Johnson will not serve in the new system. The new state law that transferred power to the mayor’s office eliminated her position and dissolved the city’s old school board.

Two other former principals will also hold prominent positions. Cozette Buckney, the principal of Jones Metropolitan High School, was named the chief of staff. Leonard Dominguez, a one-time principal and former deputy mayor for education, was named the director of policy and research.

City Hall Rally

School-reform advocates praised the selection of Ms. Harvey for the sensitive accountability position, which is responsible for evaluating the performance of city schools. She is widely credited with turning around a troubled elementary school with the help of its local school council and thus is viewed as a supporter of the decentralized system of governance established for city schools under a 1988 reform law.

“That is the area where there’s most potential for demoralizing people in the schools,” Donald R. Moore, the executive director of Designs for Change, a local school-advocacy group, said of the accountability provisions in the new law. “The fact that she was appointed gives schools an assurance that the process will be done fairly.”

Ms. St. James, the chief education officer, is a longtime Chicago educator who has served as the principal of three local schools. She has also worked with the Coalition of Essential Schools, a national school-reform network based at Brown University.

“That was a good choice,” said Joy Noven, the executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, a local advocacy group. “You’ve got to have somebody knows the system.”

At its final meeting, the old, 15-member school board voted to close Lindblom High School and seven other schools, despite strenuous protests. As Mayor Daley assumed control, supporters of the schools rallied at City Hall to urge the new board to reopen them.

“People are really going to target the mayor when the board makes a decision,” Mr. Moore predicted.

In his other appointments, Mayor Daley relied heavily on current city employees, who will be the chief operating, financial, and procurement officers.

Mayor’s ‘A Team’

Some Chicagoans have worried that his unprecedented control over the system and its budget of nearly $3 billion gives Mr. Daley fresh patronage opportunities.

“We hope he doesn’t use it as a political dumping ground, as it has been in the past,” Ms. Noven said.

But John Ayers, the executive director of Leadership for Quality Education, a local business-backed group supporting school reform, said Mr. Daley picked his best people for the jobs.

“That’s his A team, not some flunky aldermen,” Mr. Ayers said. “That shows seriousness on his part to tackle the public-finance problems over there and get them off page one.”

The choices also signaled, Mr. Ayers added, that the management team does not intend to purge all of Ms. Johnson’s administration, which had a promising accountability project and the re-engineering effort under way.

Appointed to the school board in addition to Mr. Chico were:

  • Gene Saffold, the director of the public-finance division of the Smith Barney investment firm in Chicago;
  • Norman Bobins, the president and chief executive officer of LaSalle National Bank;
  • Sharon Gist Gilliam, who held prominent posts in the administrations of former Mayors Harold Washington and Eugene Sawyer; and
  • Dr. Tariq Butt, the director of the Mount Sinai Madison Family Health Center.

Union Challenge

As expected, the Chicago Teachers Union filed a lawsuit last month that seeks to overturn provisions of the new law that restrict teachers’ bargaining and tenure rights.

In announcing his appointments, Mr. Daley called for “a system where more kids graduate and more of them test above the national average.”

He also endorsed strengthening basic skills--an explicit goal of the 1988 state law that put local school councils in control of the city’s schools.

A version of this article appeared in the July 12, 1995 edition of Education Week as Daley Names Team in Takeover of Chicago Schools


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