The new acting head of Chicago Public Schools said she wishes the school district had fully acknowledged problems with its overhaul of its special education program before now, telling WBEZ in an interview Wednesday that she is open to potential changes to the program.
“I also think it’s fair to say that we rolled out too much too fast, and we did have to walk back some of those things,” Acting CEO Janice Jackson said. “I do think that we have to take another look at this.”
A WBEZ investigation this fall found that sweeping changes to the city’s special education program resulted in cutbacks in services for special needs students but savings for the school district.
Jackson was named interim chief last month after Forrest Claypool resigned. He stepped down after the schools’ inspector general recommended he be fired for trying to thwart an ethics investigation. The Chicago Board of Education is expected to vote in January to make Jackson, formerly the district’s chief education officer, the permanent chief executive officer.
Jackson is unlike any other recent CEO overseeing the nation’s third-largest school district. She attended CPS from preschool through high school graduation and is also a CPS parent. She catapulted up the ladder inside the school district from teacher to principal to district administrator.
“You’d be hard pressed to find someone who loves CPS more than I do,” Jackson said.
In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday, the new CEO said she had no plans for “sweeping closings” of under-enrolled schools. Jackson also announced that more than 90 percent of eighth graders had applied to CPS high schools through a new online single application system, surpassing a 75 percent participation goal.
Below are highlights from Jackson’s conversation with WBEZ education reporter Sarah Karp.
On restoring public trust after the last two CEOs were forced to resign
Janice Jackson: Obviously, that makes my job much more difficult, but no one has a more personal stake than in Chicago Public Schools than I do. And I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who loves CPS more than I do. And the reason that’s important is because my goal is to see this district be successful and I don’t want to do anything personally or professionally that casts CPS in a negative light.
On how being a CPS parent shapes Jackson’s work
Jackson: Throughout my entire career, I’ve always talked about the fact that I’m a graduate of Chicago Public Schools, but I don’t think I realized how important that commitment is until I had my own child and decided that CPS was the right approach. And I think that, like so many parents, we entrust our children to the district and with that comes a great degree of trust but also responsibility, and it has to be a two-way street.