CHICAGO – Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson announced Monday that she is leaving her post at the end of June when her contract expires.
Today, Jackson sat down with WGN to discuss her time leading the country’s third-largest public school district and what led to her decision to leave. Jackson says the journey has been a long and wild ride, but she’s loved every minute of it.
As for her biggest piece of advice to whoever replaces her? Listen to parents.
“I think it’s time for me to step back, and kind of reset,” Jackson told WGN Tuesday.
As the former social studies teacher and chief academic officer prepares to reset, she says she’s reflecting.
“I’m tired, you know? I said it yesterday. And I know you got to be superwoman and say all these things, but I’m leaning into somebody who inspires me, and that’s Michelle Obama,” Jackson said. “I remember in the middle of the pandemic, she talked about low-grade depression and how she was feeling. I was like, ‘wow, are we allowed to feel that?'”
As she winds down, Jackson says she focuses on making sure CPS is ready for a safe and smooth reopening in the fall, meaning full-day in-person instruction.
“I’m happy we are where we are now,” she said. “I promised [Mayor Lori Lightfoot] we would get there, but if I could go back, I would’ve pushed harder to get our kids back in school sooner.”
Jackson says she will not help pick her successor. But she would like her replacement to have a background in education, be a parent of a school-aged child and be a person of color who reflects the district’s diversity. She also would like someone who understands what it’s like to be in the classroom.
“I understand it’s the hardest job in this district and I’ve had all of them,” she said.
Jackson’s time as CEO was not always smooth sailing. The 2019 teachers union strike, an abuse scandal, and the pandemic with parents often on the receiving end of scheduling chaos.
“Parents don’t want to hear the back and forth between [Chicago Teachers Union] and CPS and I don’t think I contributed to that,” Jackson said. “I would challenge anybody to push back on that.”
“We have very productive and collegial conversations behind closed doors. I wish those conversations played out publically, but I don’t control that. My advice to the next CEO is to lead with integrity, lead with honesty and transparency and to not get involved in the back and forth that they will most certainly be pulled into.”
As for a promise Jackson made to bring stability to the district, she feels she did that.
“We’ve made remarkable progress.”
She said when she took the job, the average principal turnover was at 25% every year. It’s now less than 10%, she adds. She hopes her replacement will continue to prioritize academic excellence.
As for what’s next, Jackson says she has accepted a senior fellowship role at the Carnegie Foundation. She says she wants to focus on how the pandemic has and will continue to affect public education. Although she is leaving CPS, Jackson adds that she will be staying in Chicago.
“I am proud of the way I have represented myself, represented my family, represented Black women and represented CPS leadership during my time here,” she said. “These are good people who care about children and the next CEO is going to be lucky to have this opportunity.”