Under clear blue sunny skies, the 51-year-old Martinez stepped onto the Benito Juarez High School campus not only as an alum, but now as the mayor's choice for the next CEO of CPS.
"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.
Martinez is a Chicago native, immigrating to the city from Mexico when he was 6 years old, and growing up in Pilsen.
Martinez graduated from the University of Illinois. The 51-year-old father of two previously worked for CPS, serving as its Chief Financial Officer before leaving for a superintendent job in Nevada. Since 2016, he has served as superintendent of San Antonio Schools.
"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."
WATCH: Mayor Lightfoot announces Pedro Martinez as new CPS CEO
The mayor dismissed concerns that Martinez does not have a background as a teacher.
"I chose someone who I thought was an excellent leader, and has a track record of success. I think his record speaks for itself," she said. "He took a district that started out, when he was there, at a grade level F and raised it to a grade level B."
Pending school board approval, Martinez will inherit a district still sore and recovering from a teacher's strike, a district fraught with tension over COVID safety in schools and a district transitioning to an elected school board.
That tension felt at one point during his introduction when a small group of protestors showed up and yelled during his remarks.
After a national search, Martinez who is an immigrant from Mexico is poised to become the first Latino to lead the nation's third largest school system on a full-time basis.
His hiring is welcomed by the City Council Latino Caucus, which signed a letter in June urging the mayor to pick a Latino for the job.
"This is a step in the right direction and I think that we're gonna continue to put pressure on the administration to make sure that the cabinet reflects the population of the city of chicago," said 36th Ward Alderman Gilbert Villegas.
Meanwhile, Martinez is no stranger to the district. He was also the CFO for CPS from 2003-2009.
"I know that our children can reach their full potential and all of us united, we can achieve that," Martinez said
The Chicago Teachers Union issued a statement in response to the appointment saying:
"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 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.
"Families, students and community organizations are empowered leaders now, and have rejected the charter proliferation, the mass firing of Black female teachers, weakened worker protections and top-down decision-making that were hallmarks of his time under former CPS CEO Arne Duncan.
"Many of the failed strategies that our new CEO is accustomed to no longer exist in Chicago, as the experiments of education reform and privatization have proven to be a failure. Equity, justice and democracy, and student, parent and educator voice, are now at the forefront. Despite having no classroom or in-school experience, Mr. Martinez will have to be an independent thinker, a far better partner and collaborator than Mayor Lightfoot, and work with stakeholders to keep them safe, earn their trust and meet high expectations.
"Students, educators and school communities have worked hard to create a new vision for our district, and for public education, and do not want a return to the economic and racial inequities of the Paul Vallas-Arne Duncan era. As is the case with previous new CPS CEOs, we hope Mr. Martinez respects and embraces the hard work and sacrifice that teachers, clinicians, paraprofessionals, counselors and librarians bring to their school communities every day. He should meet with educators, hear concerns, and make CPS families and school communities public and active participants in the governance of their district.