UofC prof named CPS chief education officer

February 11, 2011 2:52:28 PM PST
A University of Chicago professor has been named to the number two job with Chicago Public Schools.

Professor Charles Payne is now the CPS chief education officer.

The appointment places an academic in the school system's top education spot rather than a former Chicago school principal for the first time since Mayor Daley took control of the city's public schools.

Dr. Payne has 20 years of experience in higher education, previously teaching at several institutions including Northwestern University. And because the 62-year-old professor has written about the failures of urban school reform, he brings a unique perspective to the job.

Although Payne won't hold the job for long, he's already talking about the need for change.

"The mistake of the city over time has been to focus on specific programs in schools and not as the schools as organizations," said Payne.

The sociology professor fills the spot left vacant since June when Barbara Eason-Watkins quit to become superintendent of the Michigan City, Indiana public schools.

Until now, interim schools CEO Terry Mazany had a tough time finding someone to take the job for only a few months until a new mayor is elected and a new schools CEO is named.

"Not only do we have responsibility for success this school year, the board of education has to make a number of important decisions and set a budget for the following school year," said Terry Mazany, Chicago Public Schools interim CEO

Payne, who says he does not want his appointment to become permanent, is on loan from U. of C.

His appointment is disappointing to some in education who wanted the next chief education officer to have a teaching background. Fiske Elementary Principal Cynthia Miller, however, says there's nothing to worry about.

"Dr. Payne has a very strong pulse on urban education, so we certainly look forward to his leadership," said Miller.

Dr. Payne is currently works acting executive director of the Woodlawn Children's Promise Community, an effort modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone that aims to help youth academically achieve. It's this community partnership model he brings to the job.

"We are both very inspired by his work and research. The knowledge of how to work within challenging urban schools," said Tina Ramirez, Woodlawn Children's Promise Community.

Payne says his first priority will be construct a solid education plan.

"Even if it's only for one year, we don't want to go through another year without a broad plan," said Payne.

Payne has not only been critical in the past of Chicago's school-closing policy but also of the multitude of 'choice'' schools that have been created under the Daley administration. Since then, the Chicago school system has tweaked its policy on school closings.