The second-place candidate in Chicago's mayoral race wasn't deterred from public service by losing an election. In fact, he's moved up to state-level politics, thanks to a gubernatorial appointment announced this week.
Gery Chico will serve as the chair of the Illinois State Board of Education, as Governor Pat Quinn told the public in a Tuesday press conference. He will be the second Latino to hold the post, succeeding Jesse Ruiz, who left for the Chicago Board of Education.
“Gery Chico’s decades of experience in education and administration will help keep our schools competitive and prepare our students to succeed in the global economy,” Quinn said in a press release. “His leadership will be vital as Illinois prepares to implement ground-breaking education reform that we hope will become the model for the entire country.”
He will take the reins of the state's school board at a precarious time for education in Illinois. With the state facing a massive fiscal shortfall, public schools will see their already dim funding cut further in the upcoming budget. Meanwhile, the governor is set to sign a major education-reform bill that will pave the way to longer school days and years and restrict the powers of teachers' unions.
Before his failed mayoral run in 2011, in which he came in a distant second to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chico had served in a number of roles in Chicago city government. The one that likely drew Quinn's attention, though, was his tenure as the president of the Chicago school board. He is often credited with helping Mayor Daley close the Chicago Public Schools's budget gap and make some increases in test scores.
An editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times praises Chico for his experience and expects he'll serve the state well. "Quinn picked a man with the experience and temperament to shepherd the state board through difficult budget times, a major revamping of the state’s tenure and dismissal rules and the shift to a more rigorous common core curriculum," the paper writes.
Others were less enthusiastic. "Let's be clear about what the Chico regime accomplished," said Don Washington, writer of the Mayoral Tutorial blog and a vocal critic of Chicago school policy, in an email exchange with Huffington Post Chicago. "It started the city down the path of privatization.... He also drastically cut recess, physical education and the arts while increasing standardized testing. The short-term gains [in test scores] have long since left the system, and even then those 'gains' were just incremental improvements."
In any event, Chico will now wield significant power in the fate of the state's schools. To do so, he'll have to work closely with a man who he recently spent millions of dollars attacking: Rahm Emanuel, who has made schools a central focus of his first weeks in office, and whose city represents by far the largest and most complex school district in the state.
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