The chiefs of America’s three largest public school districts have resigned within two months of each other following a tumultuous year marked by school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, the introduction of remote learning, and battles with teachers’ unions over resuming in-person learning.
Janice Jackson, CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the third largest school district in the United States, announced Monday she would be leaving her post, stating it is time to “pass the torch to new leadership,” reported the Associated Press (AP).
Since beginning her tenure in 2018, Jackson led CPS in 2019 during an 11-day strike by the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU), with strong ties to the #RedforEd movement, that left K-12 classes cancelled for over 360,000 students.
In February, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) criticized CTU for putting up obstacles to reopening schools for in-person learning with the statement the union has “aspirations’ that are “akin to a political party.”
According to AP, in her resignation message to CPS families, Jackson named the creation of the district’s equity office as one of her top accomplishments. She said more black and disabled students were able to apply to the district’s most selective schools as a result of the equity office’s interventions.
“As I look back on what we’ve done, I have felt proud and humbled, and also a little tired,” Jackson said at a news conference.
Just several weeks earlier, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Austin Beutner announced he will step down when his contract expires on June 30.
LAUSD is the nation’s second largest school district.
While the district’s Board of Education asked Beutner to consider remaining on as superintendent, he sent a letter stating, “I believe it is fitting that a new superintendent should have the privilege of welcoming students back to school in the fall,” ABC7 reported.
Beutner said, since his tenure began in 2018, he believed he either accomplished or progressed on many of his goals, such as renewing trust in the school system and reopening schools following the closures due to the pandemic.
Beutner advised his successor to “keep doing what we’re doing but do it faster. Lots of work to do but kids can’t wait.”
In a letter of thanks to Beutner, the Board of Education wrote, “We are particularly grateful for his unwavering leadership during the extraordinary challenges facing our school district during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Like Jackson, Beutner also dealt with a major teachers’ strike in 2019, fueled by the radical #RedforEd movement.
As ABC7 noted, while the board was criticized for hiring Beutner, a successful investment banker, because of his lack of experience in public education, his proponents justified his hiring by stating his skillfulness in business would transfer to managing a large school district with substantial financial difficulties.
In a surprise announcement at the end of February, the chancellor of the largest school district in the nation, New York City Schools, announced he would be stepping down in March, in the wake of harsh criticism from parents and others over what they said was his “obsession” with “racism” and his handling of the reopening of the city’s schools during the coronavirus pandemic.
Richard Carranza, an Arizonan who was hired for the chancellor’s post after Mayor Bill de Blasio’s (D) first choice candidate rejected the job at the last minute, said during a press briefing he was resigning due to the loss of a number of his family and friends as a result of the coronavirus.
I know the pandemic has not been easy for you or for any New Yorker. And make no mistake, I am a New Yorker — well not by birth, but by choice — a New Yorker who has lost 11 family and close childhood friends to this pandemic. And a New Yorker who, quite frankly, needs to take time to grieve.
The New York Post editorial board wrote Carranza’s resignation was actually leaving the city in a position that is “better off without his signature blend of incompetence and toxicity.”
The editorial board continued regarding Carranza’s decision to make “racism” his “obsession”:
As Karol Markowicz writes, Carranza came to the city three years ago, guns blazing, “accusing everyone around him of racism [and] degrading parents who dared speak up for their children.” All too often, race seemed to be not merely his obsession, but his only concern. (Well, that and dumping on the charter schools that actually deliver for the minority kids he claims to care about.)
And when it came to actually running the nation’s largest school district, he started off in over his head and never improved.
“Carranza will be remembered for demonizing liberals (both parents and DOE professionals) as racists, for pitting blacks and Hispanics against whites and Asians, and for failing completely when a real crisis hit,” the Post editors asserted.
He sparked his first controversy in April 2018, when he retweeted a story with a headline that condemned white parents for their opposition to a diversity proposal.
“Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools,” read the post.
In May 2019, three longstanding female Department of Education (DOE) officials filed a lawsuit that argued Carranza’s attempt to purge “toxic” whiteness at the DOE left them demoted and replaced by less-qualified persons of color.
“If you draw a paycheck from DOE … get on board with my equity platform or leave,” Carranza said, according to the lawsuit reported by the New York Post, which added:
“Under Carranza’s leadership, DOE has swiftly and irrevocably silenced, sidelined and punished plaintiffs and other Caucasian female DOE employees on the basis of their race, gender and unwillingness to accept their other colleagues’ hateful stereotypes about them,” wrote the group’s lawyer, Davida S. Perry, in the filing.
The mayor and Carranza appeared unable to launch a consistent school reopening plan.
Following initial school closures in March 2020, students in New York City moved to remote learning for the duration of the last academic year.
In September, schools were slated to open, but a new agreement with teachers’ unions left only pre-K and special needs students beginning in-person learning immediately, with the other level schools expected to follow along in the next month.
A second delay occurred, however, as students whose families opted for part time in-person and part-time remote learning, were not guaranteed instruction on remote-learning days, due to staffing shortages.
When coronavirus cases spiked in New York City in November, de Blasio then closed all school buildings.
New York City high schools finally reopened in March, though the majority of students would still be participating in remote learning.