CPS CEO Forrest Claypool announced his resignation, effective December 31, 2017. “When I took this job I knew it would be the toughest of my political career. It’s lived up to that expectation,” he said Friday. Photo: A.D. Quig, The Daily Line.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool announced his resignation late Friday afternoon in the basement of CPS’ headquarters. He was flanked by dozens of somber assembled community members, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and his successor, CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson.

“I regret my actions and I’ve apologized for them,” Claypool said. “I am experienced enough to know that I’ve accomplished all I can accomplish at CPS.”

The news broke hours before and followed a report from CPS’ Inspector General, accusing Claypool of misconduct and a coverup.

Emanuel stood by his appointee and friend of more than 30 years. He said Claypool should be judged by the entirety of his service with the city, the Cook County Board, at the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Transit Authority, and in securing more funding for CPS students in a deal reached in Springfield earlier this year.

“He can walk out with his head high because he did a job well. He will always be my friend. He did a great job for the children of the City of Chicago,” Emanuel said.

The day before, Emanuel had urged others not to make a “snap judgement” about Claypool’s future. The two first met in 1980, working on David Robinson’s unsuccessful congressional campaign. Alongside David Axelrod, the three went on to found Axelrod & Company. Claypool later advised on Mayor Harold Washington’s 1987 campaign, and twice became Chief of Staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley. He served two terms on the Cook County Board of Commissioners, defeating Ted Lechowitz.

Attendants of the packed the press room Friday included Rev. Leon Finney and Pastor Byron Brazier, two clouted pastors from the city’s South Side. Finney said Claypool was unlike any other superintendent he’d interacted with in his 50 years working with CPS.

“No other head of this body had the nerve to sue the state of Illinois on the (school funding) formula,” Finney said. “We owe Forrest a debt of gratitude for his courage and commitment.”

All speakers credited Claypool for owning up to his mistake, but neither the mayor, nor Claypool, Jackson, or Clark took questions as reporters shouted after them.

“Did you make a mistake by backing Claypool?”

“Did the board learn nothing from the SUPES scandal?”

“What does it say to the children of Chicago that Claypool was praised so much right now? That it’s okay to lie?”

Next Steps

Dr. Janice Jackson, the district’s chief education officer since 2015, has been elevated to acting CEO. The Board of Education will affirm her status at its January meeting, Board President Frank Clark said Friday.

Her mantra during her tenure as chief education officer, she told Crain’s last year, was “stability, stability, stability,” in a district that has seen leadership scandals and funding troubles that brought it to the brink of insolvency.

Jackson started as a social studies teacher at South Shore High School then moved up to become founding principal of Al Raby School for Community and Environment. She moved on to help open George Westinghouse College Prep. She went on to lead Network 9, one of the CPS’ 13 school zones that includes Bronzeville, Hyde Park, and Woodlawn. That zone has 26 schools and serves 14,000 students.

Jackson holds a bachelor’s in secondary education, a master’s in history from Chicago State University, a master’s in leadership and administration, and a doctorate in education policy studies and urban school leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

She takes over as the district still struggles with finances, and as it moves to close and consolidate several schools.

Outside Reaction

CTU VP Jesse Sharkey said union members are “delighted” to see Claypool go, and he looks forward to having an educator at the helm of the district. Photo: A.D. Quig, The Daily Line.

Claypool’s resignation, following Supt. Barbara Byrd Bennett’s indictment, led some to repeat the call for an elected school board.

“For some time now we have been saying that the superintendent of the Board of Education should be a educator and that the board of education should be an elected board,” Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22) told The Daily Line, “I hope would seize the opportunity to move in that direction.”

Jesse Sharkey, the vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, agreed, saying he was optimistic that an educator would be at the helm of CPS for the first time in roughly 20 years, when Paul Vallas was in charge.

“Emanuel has now chosen three failed CEOs to run the third-largest school district in the nation, but Chicagoans deserve a qualified educator at the helm of our schools, and one who is vigorously vetted through a publicly transparent review process and found to be both highly qualified and without ethical stain or conflicts of interest. This should ultimately be the responsibility of the elected, representative school board that Chicago residents have overwhelmingly demanded,” he said in a statement.

Sharkey says the union’s priority with Jackson is on restoring funding to special education programs, securing more revenue for the district, and encouraging her to listen to teachers. He said he hadn’t spoken to Claypool in roughly two years.

The union has previously taken a no-confidence vote in Claypool, and has criticized his handling of nearly every issue, from contract negotiations to school funding. Sharkey said his exit should not be remembered as a resignation, but a firing.

Jesse Ruiz, the former Vice President of the Chicago Board of Education and its one-time interim CEO, said “It is time for Chicago to follow the lead of major cities around the country and move to an elected Board of Education. I believe an elected school board will increase transparency and accountability in the leadership of our public school system.”

It’s no secret Claypool has rankled some aldermen, who often hear complaints about their neighborhood schools, but have little power over changing conditions. Ahead of this past budget season, Ald. Susan Sadlowki Garza (10), a former CPS school counselor, got up and left a briefing after she said Claypool told her he didn’t believe her about overcrowded classes in her ward.

Other aldermen who wouldn’t normally speak up at briefings didn’t hold back that day, Garza said at the time, complaining of classrooms with leaky roofs and broken windows. “Aldermen are fed up, and people that usually don’t open their mouth did. And good.”

Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41), who for months has testified about overcrowding at Dirksen Elementary, said the change in guard matters less to him than finding solutions. “No matter who’s in that seat they’re going see and hear me fight for our schools.”

“I think he did the right thing,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9) of Claypool’s decision to step down. “He would have been an ongoing distraction. He couldn’t lead with this hanging over his head.”

Beale said he hopes the mayor conducts a national search for Claypool’s replacement. If Jackson keeps the job, “So be it.”

“Today’s announcement is shocking but not surprising,” Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) said. Lopez has protested the district’s recent closure and consolidation plans, which would include the closure of Harper High School in his ward. “I hope his successor is willing to address the needs of our communities from a place of genuine collaboration and humility.”

“After having hear Dr. Jackson talk with disdain for the prospects of the communities I represent, namely West Englewood, I am hopeful someone with a more open mind will be permanently chosen,” Lopez said.