In a surprise move, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Friday that she has appointed former Ald. Michael Scott Jr. to the board that oversees Chicago Public Schools.
The news comes less than two months after Scott announced in May he was stepping down from the City Council to join Cinespace Studios, where television shows such as “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago P.D.” film.
Lightfoot also said she is appointing to the seven-member board Paige Ponder, a former CPS employee and current member of the Illinois Community College Board; and lawyer Sulema Medrano Novak, who sits on the city’s Human Resources Board. Lightfoot said Medrano Novak will resign from that board.
“Selecting a member for the Chicago Board of Education is a decision that will impact thousands of students and must be made carefully,” Lightfoot said in a press release. “I am confident that Michael Scott Jr., Sulema Medrano Novak, and Paige Ponder will be great additions to the board. Their collective years of experience and dedication will be a great asset to our board and will benefit our students and teachers for years to come.”
Dwayne Truss — a West Side advocate who Lightfoot appointed to the Chicago Board of Education in 2019 — said he learned about a week ago he was out. He said the mayor’s office told him it was “going in a different direction.” This news came as some surprise, Truss said, because he was asked in May to continue on the board for another two years after his term ended in June.
Truss speculates his exit is tied to concerns he raised about lack of community engagement on a $120 million plan to build a new high school that would serve Chinatown, Bridgeport and the South Loop. CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said he pulled the proposal from the agenda at the June board meeting “to take a little bit more time to answer questions that exist in the community.”
“I wanted and pushed hard to have conversations with all the stakeholders,” Truss said. “There was a pushback and a barrier put up by Chicago Public Schools leadership for that not to happen.”
Outgoing board members Luisiana Meléndez and Lucino Sotelo, whose terms were also up in June, got to say their goodbyes at last month’s board meeting. The board’s next monthly meeting is scheduled for July 27. Truss won’t get to bid adieu.
“That’s on the mayor,” Truss said. “She said that she wanted to do politics a different way. She said she wanted to bring the light and transparency, and apparently, I guess she changed her mind.”
Truss said he’s proud of the work he’s done, especially helping represent the board on the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund board of trustees, which he said is now “operating as close to functional as possible.” It’s unclear who will replace Truss there.
After several months with only six members on the Board of Education, Lightfoot last month appointed Far South Side activist Joyce Chapman.
Scott, meanwhile, worked for the Chicago Park District as a supervisor and manager before being elected in 2015 to represent the 24th Ward that includes North Lawndale. He previously led the City Council’s Committee on Education and Child Development.
Lightfoot announced last month that she was replacing Scott with his sister, Monique Scott. Scott’s father, Michael Scott, was a close ally to Mayor Richard M. Daley who rose to become president of the Chicago Board of Education.
Scott said Friday that he and Lightfoot had discussed the position as he was exiting his role as 24th Ward alderman.
“We had conversations about continuing to serve in some kind of capacity,” he said. “My thought was actually at the Park District. That’s where I wanted to go for a lot of years. However, this opportunity presented itself, and because of my family’s connection to CPS and the Board of Education and the role I played as chair (of City Council’s Education Committee), it was something I gave a lot of consideration to.”
Lightfoot tapped Scott to serve as Education Committee chair shortly after she took office in 2019. While Scott pledged more active oversight of the school district in part by holding more frequent committee meetings, a council analysis from WBEZ, Crain’s Chicago Business and The Daily Line found Scott had called committee meetings only seven times since taking over as chair. Though the district was facing unprecedented crises during COVID-19 — including school-based outbreaks, learning loss and union-related work stoppages — most of those meetings were routine.
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