How Lewis Left Lane Tech

Way back more than six years ago, just a few months before I moved to Brooklyn, I happened to be on a WTTW Chicago Tonight segment. Eddie Aruzza hosted.   We were talking about St. Elizabeth in Bronzeville.  It was part of that year's Chicago Matters series, Valuing Education.  The other guests were Jack Roeser from the Family Taxpayers Network and Karen Lewis.  (See the official lineup here.)

Of course Lewis wasn't yet Karen F-ing Lewis back then, just a North Side science teacher filling in for Marilyn Stewart on the panel.  I forget whether she was at Sullivan or Lane - Lane, probably. (I haven't found any pictures but her student ratings are still online here.)

The segment wasn't anything particularly memorable -- or at least so I thought at the time.

But then that summer Lewis transferred back to the South Side, to King, and then four years later in 2011 she was elected head of CTU.

So how did an articulate but not particularly radicalized science teacher move herself from the North Side to the South and end up heading the country's most militant local?

Apparently, I'm to blame.   Or at least that's what Lewis told me a little less than a year ago , noting that sometime during the WTTW segment -- or maybe it was in the green room beforehand -- I'd pointed out that she like many other NBCTs was working on the North Side and that there should be some sort of rotation requirement so that South and West Side kids got their fair share of the best (and best-paid) teachers.

Lewis said she'd been considering retiring, but applied to South Side schools instead and got the King job, where she saw school reform up close and personal, and the rest is history.

Obviously, Lewis had it in her all the time, and there were lots of other factors and intervening events.  (See this Tribune profile of her for some of them.) I'm sure she was pretty much joking about my role.  I take neither credit nor blame.  But still it's an interesting thing to remember that Lewis was a North Side science teacher for all those years, and that her stint at King and as CTU president came so late -- and perhaps so out of the blue to those who worked with her earlier in her career.



Leave a comment
  • If anyone had a question about the quality of the individual who represents all of Chicago's teachers, they need only look at thie following excerpt from a presentation she gave at the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference in Seattle last year:

    Teachers are supposed to be roll models for our children. I certainly would not want my children emulating the course, profane and vindictive nature Ms. Lewis so proudly demonstrates in all her public appearances. She purports to have the best interests of teachers at heart when she rails against and insults anyone who gets in her way. In reality, her only purpose is to promote herself. She had no intention of agreeing to a contract before resorting to a strike because it would have deprived her of the center ring of media attention. Karen Lewis is a disgrace to the noble teaching profession and an an embarrassment to those she supposedly serves.

  • In reply to Kerfufil:

    You know that was a standup routine, right?

  • Personality conflict, or substantive disagreement? A little bit of both, says this NYT

  • You are off--95% of the teaching force voted for this--not Karen, not CTU officers --THE membership did. You insult teachers--understandable when you have a mayor who thought Chicago teachers were dumb and continues to look at any way to outsmart them instead to listen to them. It's ego Rahm--teachers are more educated then he is, but have nowhere near the money he has.

Leave a comment