CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice Jackson announced Monday she will step down from her role at the end of the school year.
Jackson is retiring from CPS after a 22-year career in which she began as a teacher and rose to become the CEO - a role she called her "dream job."
"It is with a full heart and a grateful heart that I am announcing that I have chosen not to renew my contract which expires at the end of June," Dr. Jackson said.
She is the first CEO to have taught in the school district since 1995 when the mayor's office took control of CPS.
"Dr. Jackson has proven herself to be more than capable of leading CPS with grace, determination, will and laser focus on bettering the lives of our students," said Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Jackson first began serving as CPS CEO on an interim basis after the previous CEO, Forrest Claypool, resigned on December 31, 2017. She was later given the position permanently.
Claypool resigned after an inspector general's annual report said several CPS employees stole thousands of dollars' worth of gift cards meant to be used as incentives for students and families.
"This job has been everything I dreamt of, and sometimes a little bit more than that," Jackson said.
WATCH: CPS CEO Janice Jackson speaks after announcing resignation
She said she let Mayor Lightfoot know several months ago that she was thinking about stepping down. The challenges of the last few years left her feeling tired.
"So, we've dealt with financial crisis cuts, strikes, almost strikes - not one almost strike, there were multiple ones. So go back and check that out. I mean COVID definitely put a lot of things in perspective," Jackson said.
Lightfoot praised Jackson's leadership, especially during this last year of pandemic learning.
"Dr. Jackson has been a steady hand. She hasn't hesitated, dug her heels and took these challenges head on," Lightfoot said.
WATCH | CPS CEO discusses union's role in her decision to resign
Jackson said dealing with the Chicago Teachers Union has been particularly tiring. The union went on strike for 11 days back in 2019 and this past year has pushed back on CPS reopening plans in a fight over how to best keep schools safe.
"Right now, the politics and education are ugly. I think they're misplaced," Jackson said.
Jackson is credited with helping raise the graduation rates and college enrollments among CPS students.
"We both been involved with the system for many, many years and her passion for CPS has not changed at all," said Miguel Del Valle, Board of Education President.
Mayor Lightfoot said the district will launch a nationwide search for Jackson's replacement. But with Chief Operating Officer Arnie Rivera and Chief Education Officer LaTonya McDade also leaving, the district could be facing a leadership vacuum.
"I feel very, very confident that we will get a great leadership team. And I think a credit to a kind of leader that Dr. Jackson is, she's built an infrastructure that doesn't depend on a single person," Lightfoot said.
Jackson at one point became emotional, saying she is looking forward to having more time with her family.
"I'm also not going to walk out of here without making sure there is a transition," Jackson said. "But I've been here 22 years and unless I owe CPS a baby, I think it's time."
In a statement, the Chicago Teachers Union wished Jackson well, and said in part: "Our union formally calls for a process in which CPS families and school communities are public and active participants in hiring the incoming CPS CEO, who will be tasked with working in partnership with all stakeholders in bringing stability to our district."
Jackson wrote a letter Monday announcing her departure saying:
Dear CPS Family:
One of my earliest memories in life was arriving in a CPS Head Start classroom over 40 years ago. I recall this vividly because I was very saddened by the fact that I could not attend school that day due to registration. However, to my delight, I returned the following day and enjoyed a fun-filled day of learning. I remember the brightness and excitement in the room as we played and sat in reading circles, listening attentively to our teacher read a story. The fact that one of my earliest memories in life has CPS at the center foreshadowed a lifelong love for our district and undying passion for education. CPS has been an integral part of my life first as a student, most importantly as a parent, and most humbly as the CEO. It is with that adoration that I have led this great school district as CEO for the past four years. While I feel there is still more work to be done in CPS, I also believe it is time to pass the torch to new leadership for the next chapter. Therefore, after careful deliberation, I have made the tough decision not to renew my contract as CEO, which expires on June 30, 2021.
For the past seven years, I've served in senior leadership roles in CPS and feel proud of the many accomplishments that have been achieved through the hard work of our students, teachers, counselors, administrators and staff and with the strong, ongoing support of Mayor Lightfoot and our Board. We have accomplished so much together including nationally recognized gains in student achievement, dramatic increases in graduation rates, college enrollment and completion rates, and the expansion of more academic programming across the city including the largest capital investment in CPS history that prioritized communities on the Southside and Westside of Chicago.
With equity at the core of our five-year vision, our incredible team has launched several initiatives that will help us achieve our goal of a high quality educational experience for all children. One of the most fulfilling accomplishments as CEO is creating high quality educational opportunities in communities that have experienced historic disinvestment. The development of an academic program expansion process led to the growth of rigorous programming throughout the city and the creation of Englewood STEM High School and Bronzeville Classical, two high-quality schools that are both on the Southside of Chicago. We did this in partnership with the Community Action Councils and other residents in the community. Those projects demonstrated the power of collaboration and investing in our neighborhoods, and it is my hope that it will continue with even more vigor in the coming years as many more communities in the city need and deserve more high quality educational options.
My tenure has not been without its adversity. However, from day one, I committed to own and face all of our district's challenges head on. I thank each of you who played a role in helping us navigate those challenges by showing up daily with unwavering commitment to Chicago's children. Despite a disruptive year, CPS is emerging stronger than ever. Fiscally we have made great improvements including increasing school funding equity and making significant investments in schools and students with a focus on underserved communities.
As I close out the next few months in CPS, our collective focus will be on ensuring a successful and safe reopening of schools full time in the fall. This includes implementing our comprehensive plan to help our schools recover from the pandemic by addressing academic and social and emotional needs and investing in supports that bring transformative change. It will be a down payment on the bright future and big things to come for CPS.
When I began this journey, I made a commitment to lead with integrity, courage, and excellence while bringing much needed stability to the district. I have delivered on that promise and will continue to advocate for the children of Chicago. I want to express my sincerest gratitude to Mayor Lightfoot and the residents of Chicago for trusting and supporting my leadership throughout my tenure in CPS.
It has been an honor to serve Chicago's children.
Janice K. Jackson, EdD