School & District Management

Rahm Emanuel Names New Leaders for Chicago Schools

By Denisa R. Superville — July 16, 2015 3 min read
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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday named Forrest Claypool as the new chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools as part of a new leadership team to help the beleaguered public school system get back on the right footing.

In addition to Claypool, a former president of the Chicago Transit Authority and superintendent of the Chicago Park District, Emanuel also named Frank M. Clark, a former utility executive, as the new school board president; Janice K. Jackson, a former network chief, as the new chief education officer; and Denise Little, who was in charge of all the district’s school network chiefs, as a senior adviser to Claypool.

All of the appointments will be officially announced at the school board’s July 22 meeting. Claypool will start on July 27.

The new leadership team is expected to bring some stability to the school system, which has been without a permanent school leader since May when former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett resigned amid a federal probe into a $20.5 million contract awarded to a firm that once employed her. It has also had a string of bad financial news. (See our earlier post on Thursday.)

Claypool, who currently serves as the mayor’s chief of staff, will replace school board vice president Jesse Ruiz, who has been filling in as interim CEO since Byrd-Bennett resigned.

Clark, the new school board president, is a former chairman and CEO of Commonwealth Edison (Com Ed, the electrical utility company). He also co-founded a science and math academy, Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy, on the city’s west side.

Clark will replace David Vitale, who has served as board president since 2011. Vitale is stepping down.

Jackson, who will serve as the chief education officer, has worked for the school district for a decade and a half, according to the statement from the mayor’s office announcing the changes.

Little, a former principal, most recently served as the district’s chief officer of networks, a position that allowed her to provide support to all network chiefs.

“From historic gains in graduation rates to record high ACT scores and a record amount of students bound for college, our students, teachers and principals have made great progress, and for the sake of our children and our city, that progress must continue,” Emanuel said in the statement announcing the changes.

“This new leadership team will build on our gains, address our challenges, and make sure that we continue putting our children and their education first.”

But not everyone is happy with Emanuel’s choice of Claypool for the district’s top job. The Chicago Teachers Union put out a statement that likened Claypool to a “political fixer.

“Claypool is a political ‘fixer’ and longtime mayoral insider who represents another non-education, business-style manager of our schools,” the union’s vice president, Jesse Sharkey, said in the statement. “Mayoral control has given us 20 years of businessmen running our schools, going back to Paul Vallas, and look where it’s gotten us. This appointment suggests that the mayor will look to cut even more from neighborhood schools, when what we need is a return to an education-centered approach to our schools.

And Karen Lewis, the union president, urged Claypool not to take the job, according to The Chicago Sun-Times and The Chicago Tribune.

Lewis was also even more critical of Clark’s appointment as the new school board president, citing his involvement in the panel that eventually oversaw the closures of nearly 50 schools.

“You sit on the panel that closed 50 schools and you’ve got a charter school with your name on it,” she said, according to The Chicago Sun-Times. “Are you sending us a message, is this what the district is going to turn into?”

Update: This post was updated to include comments from the Chicago Teachers Union.

Caption 1: Forrest Claypool, left, shakes Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s hand on July 16, after Emanuel announced that Claypool will head the Chicago Public Schools. Claypool is currently Emanuel’s chief of staff, and was president of the Chicago Transit Authority during the mayor’s first term. --Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Caption 2: Janice Jackson looks over at family and friends during a news conference on July 16 in Chicago, where Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the appointment of Jackson as Chief Education Officer for the Chicago Public Schools. --Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.