Superboard’s real test yet to come

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So far, so good.

Given the track record of Mayor Daley’s new school team, “so far, so good” may seem like faint praise. But as the team itself must know, balancing the budget, buying labor peace, announcing new programs and saying “yes” to just about everybody who walks through the door are easy compared to what lies ahead: improving student achievement. And while there are no foolproof recipes for reviving urban schools, Chicago now has a better shot at it than perhaps any other city in the country.

As the state’s Republican leaders intended, the lines of accountability are clear: The mayor is in charge.

By replacing almost the entire central office, the mayor has ensured that the people who run the system are on the same page, increasing the likelihood that something will get done. In a welcome change, the new administrators have political smarts, too. During his first days on the job, Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas put an end to a number of perks, including a chauffeur for himself and taxpayer-financed food at staff meetings. The savings won’t buy much for kids, but the symbolism bought a lot of good will for the system. In addition, he and other top administrators repeatedly have squeezed time out of their hectic schedules to meet with the people they’re supposed to serve; often, they’ve gone out into the field instead of holding court at Pershing Road.

Having the mayor in charge gives the school system clout it never had, too. Before, no one in Springfield or the city’s corporate suites paid much heed to school superintendents or board presidents. Now they will.

Having the mayor in charge also increases the chances of coordinated action among all city agencies that have an impact on children.

School reform activists are justifiably wary of the new concentration of power. However, the activists, who range from Daley’s archcritics to his corporate allies, themselves constitute a counterbalancing power. If the new school regime veers away from its stated goal of educating children, Chicago’s broad-based, well-informed school reform community can sound the alarm. This group may not be able to fill an auditorium, but it is not without influence. After all, both the 1988 School Reform Act and its 1995 revision owe much to their ideas and activism.

ABOUT US This month, Catalyst welcomes a new group of editorial board members. Joining us are Bernard Brown, a board member of the Community Renewal Society and dean emeritus of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago; Stephen Henderson, education writer for the Detroit Free Press; Jacqueline Sanders, co-founder of the Nia school-within-a-school at Bethune Elementary; Martha Silva-Vera, principal of Philip Sheridan Elementary School; and Carolyn Vessel, director of residential and parenting academy development, Chicago Cluster Initiative.

MORE AWARDS Editor Linda Lenz has won first place for Individual Excellence in Editing in the 1995 awards competition sponsored by Chicago Women in Publishing. In the same contest, Diane Hutchinson won an honorable mention for Individual Excellence in Design for her design of Catalyst’s Fifth Anniversary issue, published in February.