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Lessons in Leadership: Chicago’s Jackson chalks recent successes up to data, culture of accountability

Aug 9, 2018 by

But the realities of a segregated city, enrollment declines and budget concerns remain persistent challenges.

It’s probably not surprising that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson, who leads the nation’s third-largest school district, shares a similar homegrown career background to former New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. Jackson attended the city’s schools before becoming a teacher and working her way to the top leadership position, and she still lives in the predominantly African-American community of Bronzeville.

“It’s not about just making decisions and then I go back somewhere and nobody sees me,” she told Education Dive during a recent visit to CPS’ headquarters in downtown Chicago. “I see the same people who I’m making decisions for in the grocery store, at the park, at the rec center. I think being a part of the community is really important and it holds you accountable in a way that maybe I wouldn’t be as accountable if I didn’t have to look at the people every day who I’m making decisions for.”

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But she also said the district’s recent academic successes have been built on strong recruitment overall, with effective preparation for working in an urban school system making up for the lack of firsthand life experience in educators from beyond the city, as well as a focus on bringing strong principals into schools.

Jackson touched on the city’s budget issues and school closures, the realities of its segregated neighborhoods, and its considerable improvement in recent years.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

EDUCATION DIVE: I read recently that the district is actually one of the most improved in the nation. What are some of the factors that you think have contributed to that?

JANICE JACKSON: Well, there are quite a few. One thing I’ll say just to preface this is that late last year in November, we actually invited the research community and other stakeholders to the table to unpack the performance that has been happening in CPS and talk about the drivers, talk about what we need to reinvest in and double down on. I say that to say I appreciate the role of research, and some of these things need to be researched and vetted before I can stand up and say, “We did these five things and it led to all of the improvements that we see in Chicago.”

But there are a few things that I know we do really, really well, and I believe they’ve led to the changes. The first one is accountability. I know, depending on the year and what state you’re in, accountability can be viewed as a good or a bad thing. I believe accountability — capital A, lowercase — is a good thing. I don’t believe you can use it as the only means to motivate people and move them. But in CPS, we have created more of an accountable culture, and I think it has lead to a stronger school system.

continued: Lessons in Leadership: Chicago’s Jackson chalks recent successes up to data, culture of accountability | Education Dive

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