After lobbying from the City Council Latino Caucus, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday, September 15, named Pedro Martinez as the new chief of Chicago Public Schools.
Martinez graduated from Benito Juarez High School in Pilsen. He attended the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and later earned his MBA from DePaul University. He served as a chief financial officer for CPS from 2003 to 2009.
An immigrant from Mexico, Martinez is the first Latino to head CPS. The appointment came months after the Latino Caucus signed a letter, urging Lightfoot to pick a Latino for the top job. Lightfoot is under pressure from the Latino Caucus, as they demand more wards following the 2020 Census figures that show an increased Latino population and a shrinking Chicago Black population.
During her announcement in Pilsen, Lightfoot said Martinez is qualified to serve as the district’s new CEO.
“Throughout the entirety of our search for CPS’s next CEO, we remained laser-focused on selecting a candidate that not only has expertise overseeing a public school system as large and diverse as Chicago’s but shares the lived experiences of our students and their families,” said Mayor Lightfoot.
“I am beyond pleased to share that Pedro exceeds these requirements and his historic appointment as CPS’s first Latinx CEO is a true value add to our entire city. CPS and I want to formally congratulate Pedro on his new role and are confident that he will continue our school district’s long, proud history of driving student excellence in an equitable and inclusive way.”
Concerns about Martinez’s background were immediately voiced after his appointment. Though he worked in education throughout his professional career, Martinez does not have classroom teaching experience.
Martinez has served as chief of the San Antonio Independent School District since 2015. He was hired to lead the nation’s third-largest school system after a months-long national search for job candidates.
“I will make a commitment that I will be making sure that I listen to my teachers, that we listen to our parents, we know that right now as we are fighting this pandemic that we gotta give ourselves some grace,” Martinez said.
Black and Latino students make up the majority of enrollment at CPS, which has had five superintendents since 2010. The last CPS chief, Janice Jackson, after three years on the job last May decided not to renew her contract following a tough school year rocked by the pandemic and tensions from the Chicago Teachers Union.
In response to Martinez’s appointment, CTU in a statement said, “It is no secret that Chicago Public Schools is in a state of turmoil right now, with one charter campus shut down due to COVID-19, nearly 6,000 students in quarantine, and lagging behind on its program for COVID-19 testing of students and staff. Add to this, issues with transportation, special education and poor communication from the Central Office to individual school communities, and it is clear that Mr. Martinez has a tall task ahead of him from day one. “The goal of our union remains unchanged, to collaborate in legitimate good faith in reaching a safety agreement with the district that respects the humanity of each and every person in our school buildings. Mr. Martinez returns to a different Chicago than the city he left in 2009, as we move toward an elected school board and embrace the return of full bargaining rights for teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, clinicians, case managers and librarians.”