Correcting the Record and a Plea for Leadership



From the Principals and Assistant Principals of Chicago Public Schools
Regarding the Statements and Actions of CPS CEO, Pedro Martinez 

A Breakdown of Leadership

During a Wednesday Press conference, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez told reporters–and later parents–that principals in individual schools will decide whether students can return to schools for in-person learning or enrichment based on the resources and staffing available to them. This is a districtwide crisis and we need a districtwide strategy. It should not be an ad hoc reactionary response that creates inequities that are predictable among social and economic lines. Instead, it feels as if the district’s approach was more focused on eroding the trust we’ve worked so hard to develop by pitting schools, principals, parents, and staff against each other than on actually providing safety and support for students and communities. During previous CPS/CTU work actions, there was a cohesive strategy to provide safe haven, meals, and enrichments to essential workers that struggle to find childcare.  Why is this not the approach today? This is a district-wide, not school-by-school crisis, just as we experienced in prior years. Just as in prior years, we need a district-wide solution. 

The True Crisis: Race and Class Inequity

Principals don’t determine the resources and conditions that leave some schools ready to open and others unable to. The differences in resources and conditions are the results of past and present inequitable decisions made by city and school district officials. Principals do not want the demoralizing task of telling one school community why it cannot open while others can. Instead of forcing principals to communicate inequitable messages to communities, it is time for the mayor, school board, and district management to tell those same communities how they’re going to end that inequity.

Principals Blindsided

In the morning of January 5th, CPS Leadership convened a series of online meetings with its principals to discuss the current state of schools and solicit feedback for how we should proceed as a district. During those meetings, district officials told principals that schools would be closed on Thursday, January 6th, and Friday, January 7th. If we were to go remote or hybrid, it would start on Monday, January 10th, and end Friday, January 14th. This would ensure that we are staying within the state requirement for instruction. We would return to in-person on January 18th. District management explained to us that the hybrid option would be used starting January 10th to service high-needs students, and it would be up to each school to determine what we could manage based on our capacity. Again, multiple times at the end of the meeting, district officials reiterated that schools would be closed Thursday and Friday. 

Later that evening during a press conference, CEO Martinez shared that schools would be open on Friday and urged CTU members to "join us in opening schools." Following this press conference, CPS sent a letter to CPS families stating that "some schools have enough staff reporting to work to return to in-person instruction as soon as Friday, January 7th," and "Your school's principal will be reaching out to your individual school community regarding what level of instruction they can provide your family."

Essentially the district’s approach to us was, “Here’s a plan we’re thinking about, let’s talk about it,” and then “never mind, we’re going in the exact opposite direction (but we’ll tell parents before we tell you).” As school principals, we have been doing what seems like impossible work and holding it together for our students, parents, and staff members who are already exhausted. We opened schools on Monday and Tuesday of this week with the staff we had and taught classes ourselves to ensure that instruction would continue for our students. To tell principals schools would be closed this week, and then blindside us just a few hours later with a public statement that principals will decide to either open or close our schools on Friday is offensive and unsafe. It removes district management from the responsibility of making and explaining difficult decisions on school reopening and puts principals right in the line of fire. 

Decision Making and Administrator Input

District officials conducted a survey in some of Wednesday’s meetings with principals and no survey in others. In those where there was a survey, the outcome was not shared. In at least one meeting, the few principals who did speak were those whose opinions were in line with management’s. While we appreciate the town-hall-style input and hope it continues, a short-notice virtual meeting should not be the only forum for our feedback on a decision like this. We need information beforehand, time to process and discuss among ourselves, and a safe way to share opinions that are not in line with the views of district management. Management should encourage this kind of decision-making so that they can see their blind spots and hear perspectives that challenge their assumptions and lead to better decisions. Principals and assistant principals have elected representatives within the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA) for that purpose, and the district should avail itself of the structure and benefits that CPAA provides.