School & District Management

Chicago Schools’ Chief Executive Will Step Down

By Robert C. Johnston — June 13, 2001 2 min read
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Paul G. Vallas’ six-year run as the high-profile chief executive officer of the Chicago public schools ended last week with the much-anticipated announcement that he will resign.

The news was the second shoe dropping in a leadership shakeup that began late last month, when Gery J. Chico stepped down as the president of the city’s school board. (“Change Afoot for Chicago’s School Team,” June 6, 2001.)

Speculation that Mr. Vallas was on the way out had grown recently, owing largely to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s public criticism of some stagnant and declining test scores.

Mr. Daley, who appointed both top district leaders in 1995 under a state-mandated mayoral takeover of the schools, was more complimentary at the June 7 press briefing where he accepted Mr. Vallas’ resignation. It wasn’t clear when it would be effective.

The mayor called Mr. Vallas “the best chief executive in the history” of the city’s schools, and he praised overall improvement in reading and mathematics scores and higher student-attendance rates.

“Teachers, students, and principals will tell you there’s a new spirit in the Chicago public schools,” Mayor Daley added. “The old sense of defeatism and failure is a thing of the past.”

For his part, Mr. Vallas denied that the mayor had asked him to leave. “These jobs are not forever,” he told local reporters. “Six years is a long time.”

Mr. Vallas, who previously was Mr. Daley’s budget director, said he would stay on board for awhile to help with the transition. As of press time last Friday, the mayor hadn’t revealed his choices to replace Mr. Chico and Mr. Vallas.

School watchers in Chicago said the leading contender for Mr. Chico’s post appeared to be Michael Scott, the president of the Chicago Park District. As for a Vallas replacement, Chicago Library Commissioner Mary A. Dempsey appeared to be at the front of the pack.

‘Real Pressure’

Mr. Vallas became a national figure after being put in charge of the 432,000-student district, the nation’s third largest.

Under the Chico-Vallas administration, the automatic promotion of students to the next grade was ended, and thousands of students were sent to summer school in a push to raise their achievement. Mr. Vallas had high expectations for all students, and expected other administrators to demand results, observers say.

“He put real pressure on schools like I’d never seen,” said Barbara Radner, the director of the Center for Urban Education at DePaul University in Chicago. “People knew you couldn’t fool this guy.”

The district has also produced six years of balanced budgets and managed $2.6 billion in school construction projects.

Critics of Mr. Vallas direct their harshest attacks at what they contend is a proliferation of shallow curricula foisted on students in the cause of raising test scores.

“There’s some concern the mayor will replace one person without education expertise with another,” said Julie Woestehoff, the executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, a local advocacy group. “We need a real education vision. We hope it’s the direction that the mayor wants to go.”

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A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 2001 edition of Education Week as Chicago Schools’ Chief Executive Will Step Down

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