It didn't seem to take very long for CPS chief Janice Jackson to move into the apparently preordained, appointed-CEO role--a role in which condescension and prevarication seem to be obligatory. We've seen a steady progression from that first friendly video she recorded which, if we weren't talking about Rahm's CPS, would've filled everyone with hope. But we are talking about Rahm's CPS and so it filled me with skepticism.
From there Jackson moved straight into two inherited issues, both of which bear the mark of Rahm's CPS and one of which was the cause of her predecessor's downfall. First, Jackson inherited plans (I use the term loosely) to close all of Englewood's high schools, leaving no option for students until the future opening of a new area high school, and to shutter NTA elementary and put a high school there instead. Second, the special ed funding debacle uncovered by Sarah Karp in October 2017 that led to Forrest Claypool's abrupt resignation was now hers to deal with.
As for the school closure issue, Jackson seemed to sort of listen to the communities who begged her not to close all the Englewood high schools, deciding to make them into phase-outs rather than immediate closures. But she did not even pretend to heed the many hundreds of voices begging to retain NTA as a successful, Level 1+ grade school serving mostly black children. That closure looks imminent. The handover of NTA to South Loop families for a new high school is pretty much textbook Rahm's CPS--disadvantaging students and families of color, it was a backroom deal, one in which real estate values figure prominently. I knew we would be able to tell what kind of CEO Jackson would be based on her response to the school action plans she inherited. It turns out, she toes the line, as do all CPS CEOs in our mayoral-controlled district.
But there is more to learn about what kind of CEO she is turning out to be. The special ed funding fiasco provides another, significant glimpse.
Though Karp's story broke in October, parents of special education students had known for nearly a year that something was badly amiss, as outlined in this January 2017 BGA report. Parents and advocates agitated--as they always do--at board of ed meetings, in press conferences, anywhere they could try to get the district to pay attention. In a blog post of October 24th, Mike Klonsky reviewed parents' actions, culminating in an October 25th press conference:
Parents will share a letter, signed by over 1,000 concerned parents and citizens in just one week, calling on the mayor and CPS to halt their use of this abusive manual and fire CEO Claypool who paid crony consultants $14M to devise the plan.
“Parents have been bringing their concerns to the BOE for over a year outlining many of the issues mentioned in the WBEZ report and the appointed BOE has dismissed and insulted parents over and over,” said Terri Roback Smith. “Forrest Claypool has even told parents to “prove it” when parents have informed the BOE about reduced services.”
Parent Mary Fahey Hughes brought many of the concerns to Mayor Emanuel during public comment at the city council meeting just two weeks ago and was ignored by the Mayor.
Finally, in November, parents and advocates agitated the state board of ed, ISBE, to open an inquiry into the matter. Many advocacy groups worked together to draft a letter to the ISBE, sent on November 16, 2017, basically begging ISBE for help.
Everything that happened after that was reactive on the part of CPS, starting with then-CEO Claypool's defensive response of November 22, and going forward. Claypool resigned on December 31st, Jackson was confirmed as CEO January 24th. There is no sense in which CPS was proactive with regard to this investigation, no sense in which it took the lead.
Therefore it is hard to see why Janice Jackson is now saying that CPS took the initiative to make things right, that CPS invited ISBE to come do the inquiry. It's a completely unnecessary fabrication. Numerous sources confirm the initiative of advocacy and parent groups. You can read the entire paper trail here.
So perhaps you can understand the cognitive dissonance of parents who have been on the pushing end of this process for close to two years, when they heard Jackson say that CPS initiated the inquiry. Some were troubled and stated at Wednesday's CPS board of ed meeting that in order to restore trust--a phrase Jackson often uses--CPS needs to admit the reality of the situation. Which is that CPS by no means took a lead role in securing the inquiry.
A parent was speaking at the board meeting on Wednesday and asked if Janice Jackson would correct the record and state that CPS did not take the initiative in the ISBE inquiry.
Janice Jackson was heard to respond--in an utterance which is so, so familiar to us CPS parents as we interact with our mayoral-controlled, entirely appointed CPS leadership, whoever it is, no matter who it is--"This is so stupid."
This is so stupid. This is so stupid.
Stupid? Really? Tell that to the families whose children saw their much-needed and federally-required services dissipate with no notice or explanation--and for which nothing can now make up for the loss. Tell that to the parents who spent the last two years documenting, studying, advocating, consulting, gathering information, organizing, holding press conferences and petition drives, seeking answers, begging for help.
It's been three months since she took the job and Janice Jackson has somehow managed not only to figure out how to walk in lockstep with Rahm's plans no matter how well or poorly children will fare, not only has she taken to distorting the truth in order to save face, but also, she has adopted the administration/BOE obligatory condescension and disrespect for CPS families. We know it well. We are used to it. It seems like CPS leadership and disrespect are somehow synonymous.
Despite what Jackson wants, it is almost impossible to restore trust when the prism through which you see begins to be contorted by disrespect. This is the way Rahm sees. Does it have to be Jackson's?
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