DOCUMENT: List of 54 schools to close
He also defended his decision to go on a ski vacation with his family while the decision was announced, saying he was never "far from the office."
The school closure list was met with heated opposition from the Chicago Teachers Union and parents when it was released earlier in the week. Citing under-performance and growing costs, CPS officials want to close 54 programs in a total of 61 school buildings.
But Emanuel says the pain of closing a school doesn't compare to the anguish of "trapping" kids in a failing school.
"The decision to deal with the 54 school was not taken lightly, but with a notion how do we make sure that every child can get a quality school with a quality education," said Emanuel.
Emanuel spoke publicly about the list for the first time during the announcement of a new retail complex in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood.
Angry parents and community members- who were not invited- were outside.
"There's no amount of iPads that can relieve the fear of your kids sitting in a classroom with members of gang factions...These are real issues," said Wendy Katten with Raise Your Hand.
"We're closing academically performing school and leaving some poor schools because of political connections," said Cecile Carroll, a community organizer.
Since around 86 percent of CPS students are minorities, the closings mostly affect African American and Latino students who attend grade schools on the city's South and West sides.
CTU leaders and other community leaders have called the measure racist.
"It's frustration. A lot of times in the heat of frustration you say things that are not accurate... I've never seen that side of the mayor," said Alderman Anthony Beale.
Some parents say they vow not give up fighting to save their schools.
"I grew up walking to a neighborhood school... They're taking away the whole public school system," said Hannah Hayes, parent.