Once regarded as among the worst school systems in the nation, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has emerged as an example of the progress that can be made in a district in which major educational reform efforts are undertaken. Ongoing challenges remain, as a recent report on CPS’s historical response to sexual violence details, but over the years, a number of measures have been applied, including around accountability, school choice, and data-driven student interventions, leading to improved outcomes for students. Unanimously appointed in January 2018, CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson has furthered the reform efforts during her tenure, working to increase transparency and equity while navigating crises like school closures.
At the Askwith Forums on Thursday, September 26, Jackson joins Professor Deborah Jewell-Sherman to discuss the transformation of CPS and highlight the role and importance of school principals in the district’s continued progress.
Here are five things you need to know about Jackson’s role in transforming CPS:
- Jackson grew up on the South Side of Chicago and began her career as a teacher at South Shore High School. She currently lives in Bronzeville and has two children enrolled in CPS.
- After only five years in the classroom, Jackson was appointed by former CPS CEO Arne Duncan to redesign one of the lowest performing schools in the district. Under her leadership, the graduation rate increased to 85%. She later went on to open one of the top-performing schools in the state.
- Jackson sees herself as a community organizer and hopes to involve residents in conversations about under-performing schools. As a principal, her focus was always directed toward the community. She got her students to examine the local parks and to come up with technology-driven solutions to resolve issues. Now, parents approach her in the grocery store to give her their opinions on her decisions. “I don’t mind spending the extra time, because it ultimately boils down to time … and being willing to have conversations that are uncomfortable, sometimes confrontational,” she has said.
- Jackson believes a leader helps others succeed. She believes in supporting principals and teachers and in giving them the power to make decisions. Through the Chicago Principal Fellowship at Northwestern University, Jackson offers monthly training sessions to principals committed to working three years in the district.
- She hired CPS’s first equity officer. Roughly 90% of CPS children identify as non-white, but this is not reflected in teaching staff or administration. “Equity is a moral imperative as outlined in the CPS vision,” Jackson wrote in a letter announcing the position, “and we must examine our policies and programs to see where racial inequity exists — whether in resources, staffing, academic supports, social and emotional supports, or access to high quality programs — and take steps to eliminate it.”