I WANT TO BELIEVE: An Open Letter to New CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson

Dear Dr. Janice Jackson,

I am usually elated to see an African-American woman ascend to a top leadership role. It is so satisfying to hear the glass ceiling being shattered. It signifies positive societal change. It is inspiration that fuels me to achieve my biggest dreams. I should feel proud and hopeful in this moment when you take on the CPS CEO role. But sadly, I don’t.

I have several things in common with you: I’m also an African-American woman who grew up in CPS, achieved some professional “firsts,” and now has a child in CPS. Many before you have attempted the CEO role only to fail our students and teachers. But still, I want to believe that you, a CPS-educated student who became a CPS educator and parent, will have the special sauce to navigate this system. The trifecta of a doctorate in education, a multifaceted perspective of CPS, and the power of a CEO position should lend itself to excellent outcomes -– right?

I want to believe that your experience as a CPS teacher and principal will make you sensitive to the plight of teachers in Chicago. Because you were a Chicago Teachers Union employee and have the unique perspective that provides, you could creatively seek outcomes that other CEOs could not imagine because they didn’t walk in a teacher’s shoes. Will you be the one to do it?

I want to believe that your role as a parent to a child in CPS will lead your heart to understand the opportunities and obstacles that we face when navigating the system. You could give parents a more prominent voice –- especially those who are highly engaged – so we can work together to build greater futures for our children. Will you be the one to do it?

I want to believe that your doctoral education will compel you to seek evidence-based approaches that are grounded in academic rigor. After all, your dissertation added to this collective body of academic knowledge. I want to believe that you will put this knowledge to work for CPS students and do what is truly in their best interests. Will you be the one to do it?

My experience with CPS — specifically the callous treatment of my child’s educational home, National Teachers Academy, the Level 1+ school slated for closure and conversion to a high school — has eroded my trust about whether this system truly works for its students. It has left me feeling voiceless and discarded. I want to believe that you will be the CEO who can change that by fortifying your convictions and challenging the current direction of district-wide school closures. But still, I’m skeptical.

Will your impressive personal story and professional experience be enough to overcome city politics and the mayor-appointed Board of Education? Because you were also put in your role by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, will you feel obligated to enact his agenda and fulfill promises to his wealthy constituents — or will your sensitivities to administrators, teachers, parents and students win the day?

Dr. Jackson, I want to believe in you, but so often in Chicago we see things that resemble progress — like the promotion of a CPS-invested, African-American woman — that turn out to be an illusion. Another political appointment; another political disappointment. But I hope that I’m wrong. I would be very glad to be wrong.

Show me, and the people of Chicago, that you are better than the disgraced CPS CEOs who have recently gone before you. Help me feel genuine pride in your accomplishment and confidence that the children in CPS — many of whom look like you and me, and who *were* you and me not so long ago — will be uplifted by your tenure as CEO.

Dr. Jackson, please: Be the one to do it.

– Latasha M. Watkins