As voters prepare to choose either former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas or Cook County commissioner and Chicago Teachers Union organizer Brandon Johnson to be the next mayor of Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a new appointment to the Board of Education Friday.
A few days after failing to advance to the April 4 runoff, Lightfoot said she was “thrilled” to appoint Miquel Lewis, former chair of the Noble Network of Charter Schools and acting director of Cook County’s probation services, to the board overseeing Chicago Public Schools.
Lightfoot’s most recent board appointments in July sparked controversy because of the ousting of a board member critical of plans to build a new $120 million high school that some community groups opposed.
But none of Lightfoot’s appointees may last long, if the next mayor follows suit. Three days after her May 2019 inauguration, Lightfoot announced a complete overhaul of the seven-member board was to come.
Regardless, Lewis said in press release, he was “honored by the opportunity to serve the students and the City of Chicago” and hoped to center students’ “emotional wellbeing and academic success”. Lewis currently serves on the Supreme Court Advisory Board and Illinois Probation and Court Services Board and has a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. Lightfoot praised his experience as a “great asset.”
Whoever runs City Hall after Lightfoot will initially retain the power to appoint all seven members of the board overseeing Chicago Public Schools — until 2025, when the group will triple in size, as a board of 21 elected and appointed members. Voters will then choose the first fully elected school board in 2026, under a measure Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law in 2021.
The state legislation approving the transition came as rebuke to Lightfoot, who endorsed an elected school board on the campaign trail — and then backtracked, pushing for a hybrid panel instead.
If Vallas becomes mayor, he said he would not hesitate to get involved in school board elections to support and oppose candidates. “I’m not afraid of more democracy, and if you’re going to have an elected school board, then it’s important for the mayor to get engaged in school board elections if they want to have influence,” he said at a January forum.
The Chicago Teachers Union, which has donated around $1 million to Johnson’s campaign, long pushed for the elected school board, applauding the bill signing in 2021. “Students, families and educators will now have the voice they have long been denied for a quarter of a century by failed mayoral control of our schools,” a union statement said. “Chicago will finally have an elected board accountable to the people our schools serve, as it should be.”
A former teacher and paid staffer for the union, Johnson told the Chicago Defender in January, “The mayor isn’t going to have absolute control over public school anymore. I fully support a fully elected school board.”