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Lori Lightfoot names four women of color to head education transition team

When she was a candidate, Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot unveiled her 15-point education plan in January at the Union League Club of Chicago.
Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot unveiling her 15-point education plan in January at the Union League Club of Chicago. Her spokeswoman said the plan will help guide her education transition team.
Lori Lightfoot for Chicago

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot named the leaders of her education transition team Wednesday — four women of color who have influenced the conversation around Chicago schools from very different vantage points.

The co-chairs include two non-profit directors with strong community ties: Sylvia Puente of the Latino Policy Forum and Niketa Brar of Chicago United for Equity.

The other two co-chairs have worked closely with the school district and within academia: Aarti Dhupelia, a vice-president and dean at National Louis University and a former school district official; and Sybil Madison, a school improvement coach and researcher who leads a coalition of youth-serving organizations.

Related: Lori Lightfoot is Chicago’s next mayor — which means big changes are coming to schools

Lightfoot — Chicago’s first black woman mayor and the city’s first openly gay mayor — also listed co-chairs for nine of 10 committees that by May 20 will craft a policy report that will serve as the North Star for her first 100 days in office. The committees will examine issues including public safety, transportation, arts and culture, and the environment to help set the new mayor’s agenda when she’s inaugurated next month.

Lightfoot plans to add more people to the education and youth committee to serve under its co-chairs in coming days, but hasn’t settled on how many and doesn’t have an exact date for the announcement yet, according to Lightfoot spokeswoman Nadia Perl. Perl said that Lightfoot’s 15-point education plan would help guide the committee’s work.

Here’s more background on the four co-chairs:

  • Brar is the executive director of Chicago United for Equity, which promotes equity and inclusion and aided the successful fight to stop the district’s closure of National Teachers Academy, a top-rated, predominately black school on the Near South Side.
  • Puente is executive director of the Latino Policy Forum and a member of Gov. J.B.Pritzker’s education transition team. She also sits on the Early Learning Council, a public-private state advisory board that is a central voice in early education.
  • Madison directs the Chicago City of Learning, a coalition of youth-serving organizations focused on connecting students to learning opportunities particularly in the sciences. She’s also a research associate with Northwestern University’s Office of Community Education Partnership, and former director of education and leadership for Chicago Quest Schools, one of the charter operators under the umbrella of Chicago International Charter School.
  • Dhupelia is the dean of the undergraduate college at National Louis University, which specializes in educating and training teachers. A former Broad Resident, Dhupelia previously held top positions in Chicago Public Schools’ Office of College and Career Success, Office of School Improvement, and Department of Career and Technical Education.

In addition to naming leaders of specific committees, like the education task force, Lightfoot also announced co-chairs who would help lead the broader transition effort. In a statement, Lightfoot characterized them as a diverse mix of seasoned professionals and “new voices bringing fresh perspectives” to the city’s most important issues.

They include businessman and former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson; Robert G. Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor; and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, a billionaire businesswoman and civic leader whose brother was sworn in as Illinois governor earlier this year.

Among the many academics on the advisory team are DePaul University’s Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Bethke, as the head of a task force focused on getting the city’s fiscal house in order.

Lightfoot also announced Wednesday that she would establish an advisory committee of youth from various organizations, to press her other committees to consider how policies could affect or be shaped by young people. She did not name youth committee members.

The mayor-elect launched a transition website where she invited Chicagoans to submit resumes to join her administration and ideas about what she should tackle as mayor.

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