DISTRICT | June 27, 2021
By Dr. Janice K. Jackson, CEO
When you walk the halls of Englewood STEM High School, you can’t miss a brightly-colored mural featuring words selected by community members that they associate with their neighborhood. Strength. Resilience. Soulful. Outstanding.
I’ve learned that when you lead a school district, you get to choose the words that act as the foundation of all of your priorities and decisions. And, throughout my time as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, I’ve tried to focus on what will help students in every neighborhood reach new levels of academic success. Equity. Student-Centered. Transparency. Integrity.
The attributes that I wanted to be associated with our district under my leadership were not developed in an office building downtown. They’re informed by years of memories as a student at Cook Elementary School and Hyde Park Academy. Everything I learned as a teacher and principal at South Shore High School, Al Raby High School, and Westinghouse College Prep. And my day-to-day experiences as the current parent of a soon-to-be CPS seventh-grader.
Now, as I close out my time as CEO and our district prepares for new leadership, it’s a time to reflect—were these words just words, or were they something more?
Every time I see that mural at Englewood STEM, I’m reminded of how our district’s commitment to equity has translated into new high-quality school options in communities that need them. A high school in Englewood that neighborhood students are proud and excited to attend. A classical elementary school in Bronzeville. And a historic school merger to ensure that all students living in the same part of the city have the same academic opportunities.
On top of that, we’ve invested tens of millions of dollars to expand academic programs such as IB, STEM, and dual language at more than 60 elementary and high schools over the past several years. A guiding component of this expansion has been our creation of the Annual Regional Analysis, a fact-based report that allows us to engage communities around how we can best improve school quality in their neighborhoods.
We’ve provided equity grants—this year, to nearly 80 percent of our schools—as part of our school budgeting process to equip all schools with the resources they need to meet the needs of every student.
Our district’s Five-Year Vision has also pushed us to better meet the needs of families, especially in our highest-need communities, by expanding access to free, full-day pre-k to serve more than 16,000 students. Just a few weeks ago, our efforts were affirmed by the UChicago Consortium that found that a more equitable approach to pre-k led to improved academic outcomes, especially among Black students and students in the lowest-income group.
We’ve also leveled the playing field at our selective enrollment high schools by nearly doubling the number of offers for diverse learners. I’m also proud that 89 percent of all incoming high school students who applied to choice programs through GoCPS this year received an offer to one of their top three high school programs.
What makes these accomplishments even better is how we have seen them directly impact our students’ trajectories. Our five-year graduation rate is at an all-time high of 82.5 percent, and nearly half of all graduates are moving on from the district having earned at least one early college and career credential.
At the elementary school level, our students have been recognized for their unprecedented gains that have made CPS one of the fastest improving districts in the country. We’ve also been thrilled to see that our investments in dual language programming and culturally relevant instruction have paid off with nearly 80 percent of our district’s English learners reaching proficiency before high school.
While I feel extremely fulfilled by our district’s proactive efforts to advance equity across our schools, our commitment to integrity has been our guiding light when we’ve had to react to the unforeseen challenges we’ve faced together.
When we learned that we needed to do more to keep our students safe in our school buildings, we immediately created the district’s first-ever Office of Student Protections and Title IX that, over the past few years, has transformed into a national model for Title IX coordination among K-12 school districts.
And, over the past 15 months, we provided more than 45 million meals, distributed more than 200,000 devices, and connected more than 40,000 families to no-cost high-speed internet through our Chicago Connected program. All of these tools helped ensure that students could continue learning from home, and we also invested in air purifiers and ventilation enhancements to ensure that our schools were ready to safely welcome students back.
Though it’s bittersweet to be leaving a job I have loved, I truly believe we have laid the groundwork to help more students reach their full potential in the years to come. Our Moving Forward Together initiative will invest over $525 million to address the unfinished learning caused by the pandemic. We’re also officially launching Skyline later this summer, which will ensure that teachers and students at every school in CPS have access to a standards-aligned, culturally responsive curriculum.
Equity. Student-Centered. Transparency. Integrity. These words have been so many things over the past few years. They have been accomplishments. They have been record-breaking statistics. They have been moments where we thought we didn’t know what to do, and then we did it. The joy of returning to the school that you love for the first time in over a year. The thrill of a Back-to-School Bash or the Bud Billiken Parade. The pride of knowing that you are graduating high school well-prepared to succeed in college and press on toward your dream job.
These will be some of the final words I write as your CEO, and behind each one of these 1,000 or so words is at least 1,000 memories that have made serving in this district—as a teacher, principal, network chief, Chief Education Officer, and Chief Executive Officer—one of the greatest blessings of my lifetime.
I look forward to continuing to watch CPS reach new levels of success—for the next several school years as a CPS parent, and then beyond that simply as someone who cares so much about this district and its students. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to serve. The best truly are with CPS.