This brief analysis was written by Catalyst Publisher Linda Lenz, who covered education for the Chicago Sun-Times during Harold Washington’s tenure as mayor.

Harold Washington, the first African American to serve as mayor of Chicago, brought to office an unprecedented interest in improving the city’s public schools. However, his enemies in the City Council stood in the way of bold moves.

So he began by assembling leaders from a number of sectors, including the School Board, the business community and education groups, to work behind closed doors to fashion a reform plan. His model was the Boston Compact, an agreement wherein school officials pledged to improve student achievement and readiness for work and business leaders pledged to hire more Boston public school graduates.

Washington’s effort, called a “summit,” had all but ground to a halt when the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike in September, 1987. The walkout, the ninth in 18 years, lasted a record 19 days. After it finally was settled in the mayor’s office, Washington seized the opportunity to expand the summit, take it public and, thereby, politically sanction the overhaul of a school system that employed many of his backers.

Washington died of a heart attack before the summit convened. Its leaders cast the work to come as Washington’s legacy, but the summit was so broad-based that its compromise plan called mainly for new resources while keeping the system largely as it was. A break-away group of education activists and business leaders successfully pushed a radical plan – decentralization through the creation of local school councils – in the Legislature, which enshrined it in the Chicago School Reform Act of 1988.

Some leaders in the African-American community decried the act as “deform,” in part because it took power away from the African Americans who finally had ascended to leadership of the system. At the time, the School Board president, the superintendent and the president of the Chicago Teachers Union were black.

NOTE: “School Reform Chicago Style: How Citizens Organized to Change Public Policy,” a comprehensive political history of the Chicago School Reform Act, will be posted to this web site in the future. It was written by Mary O’Connell and published in 1991 by the Center for Neighborhood Technology


Education Summit Participants
Acting Mayor
Eugene Sawyer
Education Summit
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Smith
Chicago Theological Seminary;
Dr. John Corbally
MacArthur Foundation;

Dr. George Ayers
President, Chicago State University

Warren Bacon
President, Chicago United, Inc.

Rev. Willie T. Barrow
President, Operation Push

Karl Bays
Chairman of the Board, IC Industries, Inc.

Bruce Berndt
Vice-President, Chicago Principal’s Association

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin
Archdiocese of Chicago

Dr. Manford Byrd
Superintendent, Chicago Public Schools

Alain Carranza
Executive Director, Hispanic Federation of Illinois Chamber of Commerce

Harold Charles
The Children’s Foundation

Bobbi Cobb
Co-Chair, Parent/Community Council

James Compton
President, Chicago Urban League

Mary Brian Costello
Superintendent of Catholic Schools

Florence Cox
President, Chicago Region PTA

James Deanes
Chairman, Parent/ Community Council

William Farrow
Vice-President, Chicago Board of Education

Leon Finney
President, The Woodlawn Organization

Jan Flapan
Co-President, League of Women Voters

Tee Galley
President, Chicago Panel on Public Schools Policy and Finance

Dr. Frank Gardener
President, Chicago Board of Education

Ron Gidwitz
Chairman, Economic Development Commission

Dr. Josue Gonzales
President, Latino Institute

Daryl Grisman
Chairman, Private Industry Council

Carlos Heredia
Co-Chair, Parent/ Community Council

Larry Howe
Executive Director, Civic Committee, Commercial Club

Nancy Jefferson
Chairman and CEO, Midwest Community Council

Theodore Jones
Chairman of the Board, City Colleges of Chicago

Ann Leonard
Director, Educational Services
Chancery office
Archdiocese of Chicago

John W. Long
Parent/ Community Council

Coretta L. McFerren
Parent/ Community Council

Henry Martinez
Parent/ Community Council

Teresa Matos
Parent/ Community Council

Jan Metzger
Co-Chair, Parent/ Community Council

Samuel Mitchell
Executive Director, Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry

Don Moore
Executive Director, Designs for Change

Richard Morrow
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Amoco Corporation

Jean Oden
Parent/ Community Council

Donald S. Perkins
Civic Committee, Commercial Club

Matthew Pilcher
Parent/ Community Council

Artensa Randolph
President, Chicago Housing Authority
Central Advisory Council

Thomas Reece
Vice-President, Chicago Teachers Union

Dr. Salvatore Rotella
City Colleges of Chicago

Aida Sanchez
Acting Executive Director, Aspira, Inc.

Dr. Ted Sanders
Superintendent, Illinois Office of Education

Daniel Solis
Executive Director, UNO of Chicago

Norman Swenson
President, Cook County Teachers Union

Jacquelyn Vaughn
President, Chicago Teachers Union

Dr. Richard Wagner
Executive Director, Illinois Board of Higher Education

Dr. Arnold Weber
President, Northwestern University

Ken West
Chairman of the Board, Harris Bank

Consuelo Williams
Executive Director, Cosmopolitan Chamber of Commerce

Peter S. Willmott
Co-Chairman, Chicago Partnership for Educational Progress

Jack West
Director, Alternative Schools Network


Hal Baron
Chief Policy Advisor, Mayors Office

Sharon Gist-Gilliam
Chief Operating Officer

Robert Mier
Administrative Assistant to the mayor

Samuel Patch
Director, Intergovernmental Affairs

Arturo Vasquez
Director, Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training

Judith Walker
Commissioner, Department of Human Services


Joe Washington
Staff Director, Mayor’s Education Summit, Mayor’s Office

Germaine Gordon
Consultant, Research and Policy Development, Mayor’s Office

Luz Martinez
Senior Staff Assistant, Mayor’s Office

Note: The 50-member Parent / Community Council was created by Mayor Washington to bring parent and community voices to the Education Summit.

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