Five candidates vying to be Chicago’s next mayor attended Kenwood Academy’s mayoral forum last week to discuss their platforms with local area students.
La Shawn Ford, John Kozlar (A.B. ’11), Lori Lightfoot, Neal Sáles-Griffin, and Willie Wilson attended.
At the student-run forum, the candidates seemed largely in agreement on the importance of increasing equitable access to quality education across the city.
The student moderators first asked how candidates would handle classroom demographics. The moderators, citing research indicating that students form closer bonds with teachers from similar racial and ethnic backgrounds, asked how to get more teachers of color into Chicago Public Schools.
Ford described his plan to provide financial support to community members, specifically black men, to attend college and pursue teaching degrees. Sáles-Griffin, an adjunct professor at Northwestern University cited his experience teaching at Kenwood Academy and also reiterated his support for more diverse leaders in the classroom.
“We need to make sure we are using a racial and ethnic equity lense looking at all the major policy issues,” she said.
When asked about what candidates would do to improve the living quality of neighborhoods while simultaneously limiting gentrification and maintaining affordability, all candidates again pointed toward education as a cornerstone of community improvement.
“This is a very personal issue for me,” Sáles-Griffin said. Of over 100 family members originally living in Chicago, he said that “more than half of them are no longer here.” He then went on to stress the importance of providing more funding for city schools, drawing a connection between his family leaving the Chicago area and a lack of quality, affordable education.
“Parents leave when they have kids and they want their kids to go to the best schools and they can’t afford to live here anymore,” he said. He also stressed the issue of suburb migration in a prior interview with The Maroon upon first announcing his candidacy.
Ford echoed a similar sentiment, saying: “What the city has done to Black and Brown people is destroy their education.”
Addressing the desegregation of CPS and wider Chicago, Kozlar, a former resident of the South Side and UChicago alum, pointed towards issues of racism and disparities in education as driving factors of segregation and offered potential solutions, proposing a revised form of the K-12 system.
“What I would do under my administration, is instead of a K-12 system we would have a K-10. Meaning once you get to junior year, you will decide if you want to go 100 percent academics or choose 50 percent academics and 50 percent job training.” Kozlar has proposed the K-10 system in previous forums.
In response to a question on the need for increased funding in city schools, Wilson said, “We want to make sure that school teachers get the money that is necessary. We will invest in schools to make sure that students, teachers, have up to date computers within our schools and learn not only about the past but learn about the future.” CPS has been investing in more technology and STEM curricula this year.
Both Lightfoot and Sáles-Griffin went on to explain the need for redirecting funds away from prisons and police misconduct and into the public school system. When the candidates were asked for their initial reactions regarding the creation of the $95 billion police academy in West Garfield Park, Lightfoot said, “What happened with the police academy was, somebody on the fifth floor of City Hall came up with this idea to place it in one of the most economically distressed and high crime neighborhoods in our city without any community engagement.” Multiple local protest groups have voiced similar concerns in the last year with demonstrations at City Hall.
During the audience question portion of the forum, all candidates were asked what they would do to provide greater protection for LGBTQ+ youth in public schools. Lori Lightfoot, the only out member of the LGBTQ+ community on the ballot, commented on the disproportionate number of homeless LGBTQ+ youth: “That is a shame and a sin we must account for as a city.”
Kozlar responded by calling attention to a perceived lack of coverage of Lightfoot’s LGBTQ+ identity in the Chicago press as indicative of the media funneling attention toward “their four candidates,” later calling out fellow candidates Toni Preckwinkle, Gery Chico, Susana Mendoza, and Bill Daley by name.
Early voting in Chicago’s mayoral election has already begun, with in person voting held on Tuesday, February 26.