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Policing public school: Mayor Daley puts a former cop in charge

Mayor Daley last week chose Chicago Transit Authority President Ron Huberman to be the new Chicago Public Schools chief, replacing Arne Duncan, the new U.S. Secretary of Education. Huberman, 37, emigrated from Israel with his family when he was 5 and is a former Chicago beat cop with an MBA and a master’s degree in health administration policy, both from the University of Chicago. He once said in an alumni magazine interview that his long-term goal is to be chief of police of a "good-sized city." Huberman was Daley’s chief of staff from 2005 to 2007.

The news of Huberman’s appointment was met with both criticism and praise. At his first school board meeting on January 28, more than 300 protesters greeted him with boos and screams. The Chicago Sun-Times reported one parent saying, "At the CTA…there’s a lot you didn’t do. To know you’re in charge of my son is very scary. What experience do you have dealing with children?"

Reverend Jesse Jackson was critical of Huberman’s appointment, saying that he "wouldn’t be qualified to teach in a classroom." The Chicago Defender called Huberman a bad choice for a school system that has a 50 percent dropout rate for black students and is hampered by security concerns and violence.

Linda Lenz, founder and publisher of the education magazine Catalyst Chicago, said on Chicago Public Radio, "Ron Huberman, as far as I know, knows nothing about education. Has never had a passion for education….It’s disappointing."

On the Chi-Town Daily News, Jay Field wrote that Huberman’s appointment over Barbara Eason-Watkins, the district’s chief education officer who had been favored for this position, "revives a long-running debate in urban education over who makes the better leader: The lifelong teacher-turned-administrator or the uber-manager, who has never so much as set foot in a classroom?"

Though critical of his appointment, Field also noted Huberman’s accomplishments: "At the financially-troubled CTA, Huberman cut waste, improved on-time performance, reduced dreaded ‘bus bunching,’ and cut down on maintenance problems. As the mayor’s chief of staff, Huberman oversaw 49 departments, 39,000 employees, and an annual budget of nearly $6 billion."

The Chicago Tribune called Huberman a good choice in an editorial, writing that "He brings a track record of effective management. He generates ideas." And Jean Marsh, Dean of the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago said, "Mr. Huberman has used his education well in service of institutions and citizens of Chicago. There is no question that he will continue to work in this manner, and we at the School look forward to our continuing work together to promote and enhance the education of the young people of Chicago."

Did Mayor Daley make a wise decision in choosing Ron Huberman to run Chicago Public schools? What matters most in choosing education administrators, high-level management experience or an extensive background in education? Will Huberman’s law enforcement background be an asset in dealing with violence in and around public schools? Do you think Mayor Daley had the best interests of Chicago Public School students in mind in making this choice? What’s the first step Huberman should take in improving public schools?

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