The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Optimism and trust prevail between Chicago teachers and Mayor Brandon Johnson

Jake Cox
File – Organizers and volunteers for Brandon Johnson’s campaign cheer as Johnson and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders takes the stage at a rally at UIC Credit Union 1 Arena ahead of the runoff election on April 4, 2023.

With the current contract for Chicago teachers expiring in June 2024, teachers hope Mayor Brandon Johnson’s educational background will foster better communication and build trust that will avert the strikes recent mayors have faced.

Johnson started as a social studies teacher at Jenner Academy Elementary in Cabrini-Green on the North Side of Chicago and a union organizer during the 2012 teachers’ strike, according to Johnson’s campaign website

Johnson’s direct involvement with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) sets him apart from previous Chicago mayors, as listed in the Chicago Public Library’s biographies of Chicago mayors.

Under previous mayors, teacher strikes lasted over a week. In 2012, the teachers’ strike went on for nine days before an agreement was reached between the union and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Mayor Emanuel shut down 50 public schools a year later, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In 2019, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went on strike for 11 days during former Mayor Lightfoot’s time in office, said the Chicago Teachers Union Communications. The contract led to smaller class sizes and more benefits for teachers. 

After the strikes, the agreement included allocating $35 million to decrease class sizes, a 16% raise in wages and required schools to have at least one nurse and social worker according to the 2019 teachers contract.

 CTU continues to fight for more affordable housing for teachers and students and increasing sanctuary schools which was not resolved in the last contract as stated on their website.

With both former mayors of Chicago having a rocky relationship with educators, a new path could be forged by Mayor Johnson if a strike is avoided, said Wendy Weingarten, a CPS physical education teacher.

As he nears his fifth month in office, Johnson made changes that will last beyond his term. A June press release from the mayor’s office said CPS teachers would receive 12 weeks of paid parental leave starting in the 2023-2024 school year.

File – Mayor Brandon Johnson’s history with Chicago Public Schools sparks hope to foster better relationship between the Teacher’s Union and the Mayor’s Office. (Jake Cox)

“This policy defines when City of Chicago employees may take a specified period of paid leave following the birth, adoption or foster of a child or children,” the policy states.

With the CTU and Johnson pushing policies like 12 weeks of paid parental leave, teachers remain optimistic about communication and collaboration.

“I think this new board of education is more willing to hear [the teachers and students]. It’s such a diverse board of education,” said Weingarten, a union delegate for her school. “We have not seen [this] in the past,” she said.

A union delegate possesses the responsibility to ensure their school follows the teacher’s contract and attends monthly House of Delegate meetings. The union delegate also prepares in case of a strike during the year a contract expires, according to the CTU summary of delegate responsibilities. 

Michelle Morales, a volunteer member of Chicago’s Board of Education appointed by Johnson, shared similar sentiments about the board.

“We’re all using our varied experiences and expertise to try to lean in and really build out our vision,” Morales said.

The mayor appointed almost an entirely new board in July 2023 except for vice president Elizabeth Todd-Breland, said a press release from the mayor’s office. Todd-Breland is the only remaining member from former Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s board.

More shifts will come as the city utilizes a “bridge board,” Morales said. 

The current board has an abridged term that ends in January 2025, when a hybrid board will come into effect. According to Morales, 11 members will be appointed by the mayor and 10 will be elected. The board will be completely elected by January 2027.

The Chicago Board of Education “is responsible for the governance, organizational and financial oversight of Chicago Public Schools (CPS)…” according to the board’s website

Created in 1840, the board shifted in 1995 after a series of acts that allowed former Mayor Richard M. Daley to appoint five board members to the Reform Board of Trustees. In 1999, the name changed back to the Chicago Board of Education and expanded to seven board members. 

For now, the priority is “to provide governance to the institute of Chicago Public Schools,” and “to work closely with CPS leadership,” Morales said. 

Morales said the board will prioritize Chicago Public Schools students and their families first.

“This administration presents a really profound opportunity for deeper collaboration,” Morales said. “At all levels…in order to move forward initiatives and policies that will impact people for the rest of their lives.”

Mayor Johnson acts as the bridge between all parties to build trust, communication and collaboration as a former CPS teacher and an organizer at the CTU, said Morales

“I do think there are higher expectations,” said Weingarten. “I think it will be more noticeable.”

That path is not an easy one, said Weingarten. Class size, staff shortages, fair wages and fighting for benefits for students remain consistent issues CTU will push for in a new contract according to their website

Each fiscal year, teachers receive $250 to use for their classroom by the board as stated in the 2019 teachers’ contract. Every teacher she knows spends much more out of pocket for students, according to Weingarten. 

“You want to do right for what’s right for your kids,” she said. 

Future educators share the same sentiment as current teachers. “I would first want to work in the place where I am able to make the best impact on students,” said DePaul junior Ben Schwartz. Being an elementary education major, he hopes to teach social studies to fourth and fifth graders.

He said he would rather teach in Chicago Public Schools despite not growing up in the area.

“As a public school teacher, I just would like to feel valued,” Schwartz said. 

Providing more support to staff and increasing wages to provide meaningful change instead of superficial acts like allowing casual dress on Fridays is more appealing to future educators, he said.

“Obviously I have a lot to learn from experience,” Schwartz said. 

The importance of having dynamic experiences across the board from teachers to political leadership is essential in making an impact, said Morales, also a DePaul alumna.

This board represents so many backgrounds, races, ethnicities [and] experiences in CPS as students or parents,” Morales said. “[It] will create space for young people to see themselves in [the board].”

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