CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor Lori Lightfoot has chosen San Antonio Schools Principal Pedro Martinez as the next general manager of Chicago’s public schools, becoming the first Latino to lead the city’s school district.
Martinez, an immigrant from Mexico who grew up in Pilsen and graduated from high school Benito Juarez, said he was delighted to be returning home for his “dream job”. He plans to take over as CEO in the last week of September.
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Martinez was CFO of CPS from 2003 to 2009 under the leadership of former CEO Arne Duncan. He has led the San Antonio School District for the past six years and previously served as both superintendent and deputy superintendent in various school districts in Nevada. He is now the first Latino to hold the position of permanent CEO of Chicago Public Schools.
The Chicago Teachers Union said, given the pandemic, a shortage of school bus drivers and “poor communication” from the district central office, “it is clear that Mr Martinez has a daunting task ahead of him. him from day one “.
The union also noted that Martinez had no experience as a teacher and said that “Mr. Martinez will have to be an independent thinker, a much better partner and collaborator than Mayor Lightfoot, and work with stakeholders to ensure their safety, gain their trust and meet high expectations. “
Lightfoot defended his selection of Martinez, despite his lack of teaching experience.
“I picked someone who I thought was a great leader and who has a track record of success,” she said.
Lightfoot said that during his time in San Antonio, Martinez helped raise the district’s grade from F to B, increase the number of students admitted to four-year universities by 100% and achieve the Highest achievement gains of any district in 2019. San Antonio District was also named the Fastest Improving Large District in Texas in 2018.
“You can’t do this without being a gifted leader,” the mayor said.
She also praised Martinez for defying Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s “senseless mask ban in public schools” by demanding that all students and staff in that district wear masks in schools this year and demanding that all staff are fully vaccinated by October 15.
“As he has shown recently, he is a strong advocate for children,” said Lightfoot.
Martinez has pledged to prioritize safety in the city’s schools, with students returning to classrooms full-time amid the pandemic, and still awaiting approval for vaccines for children of less than 12 years.
“I’m going to make sure I listen to my teachers, that we listen to our parents,” Martinez said. “I know the potential of our children, I know that when we partner with our parents and teachers, and the amazing community organizations that are here in the city of Chicago – there are just a multitude of them, as well as leadership throughout. our city – I know what is possible for our children. I know our children can reach their full potential.
It is not known what Martinez’s salary will be. Lightfoot said she has yet to finalize a contractual deal with Martinez, but the two have agreed on “the broad outlines of the terms.”
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“We will let you know as soon as we finalize the deal,” Lightfoot said.
Martinez takes over from CPS as the district prepares to transition to a fully elected school board over the next six years. In July, Governor JB Pritzker signed a law that will create a 21-member school board in 2025, starting with a hybrid board, including 10 members elected in November 2024 and 11 members appointed by the mayor, including the board chair. The board will then become fully elected in 2027, with voters electing 11 members, including the president in November 2026.
Martinez said he had never served as superintendent except on elected school boards in the past in San Antonio and Nevada. He is therefore confident that he will be able to work with the new elected Chicago school board once it is in place.
“The only concern I would have is to have the mayor’s backing and the city’s backing to tackle these challenges of poverty, to tackle these challenges of, you know, just the historic issues of segregation that we’ve had here. in the city I grew up with, ”he said. “We need everyone at the table and to have the power of the mayor’s office. There is nothing like it.
Following a seemingly difficult relationship with the San Antonio Teachers Union, Martinez said he still viewed the union leader there as “my critical friend.”
“But we also respected each other. We haven’t always been in agreement, ”he said.
Martinez said “things got very divisive” during the pandemic, saying the union wanted to stick to distance learning all last school year, but wanted to gradually open it up.
“We have always been the most conservative district in our entire county area because I knew the death rates were five times higher in my district than they were in the wealthier zip codes, but we were still able to keep the schools open last. year, ending the year with almost 70% of our children in person in elementary schools, with the trust of staff and parents, ”he said.
Martinez pledged to collaborate with the Chicago Teachers Union, but stressed that he stands by the decision to start the school year in person.
“In-person instruction is what the majority of our children, especially poor children, need. This is where they learn best, ”he said.
Martinez succeeds former CEO Janice Jackson, who left at the end of June, when her contract expired. Former Elgin-based District U-46 Superintendent Jose Torres has since served as acting head of the SPC.
Jackson herself was a CPS graduate, as well as a former CPS teacher, principal, administrator, and director of education.
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Dr. Janice Jackson has raised the bar for excellence for CEOs. When our school district is led by someone who embodies excellence and who has also had an experience similar to that of the students he serves all days, this not only helps ensure that students’ unique needs are met, it shows them, their parents and guardians and our entire CPS community that they too can advance to leadership positions and thrive. ”Said Lightfoot.