Paul Vallas’ Education Record:
Turning Around Public Schools in Chicago and Beyond
Prior to Paul Vallas’ arrival as the first CEO Chicago Public Schools in 1995, Chicago’s education system had seen decades of financial crisis, labor conflicts and academic failure that was a national stain on the city that was regarded as "the worst in the nation."
During Paul’s tenure as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, he presided over six years of labor peace with no strikes and balanced six budgets.
Under Paul’s leadership, Chicago Public Schools:
Addressed severe school overcrowding of critical facilities in dilapidated old school buildings and warehouses by building 76 new schools including state-of-the-art-schools like Simeon, Westinghouse, Lindblom, King, Northside, Payton, Jones, the Bronzeville Military Academy, and Gwendolyn Brooks (in the Roseland neighborhood where Paul grew up), and opening magnet schools in all regions of the city, while renovating more than 350 schools across all parts of the city.
Opened 15 International Baccalaureate programs in neighborhood high schools throughout the city, including in Austin and Collins high schools, thus dramatically expanding high-quality choices throughout Chicago. During Paul’s tenure CPS opened only 15 charter schools and resisted outside calls to expand the charter program (which would later happen after Paul’s departure and during the the tenure of his successor).
Did not close a single school in the 558 school district
Prioritized minority contracting and employment that allocated 50% of our $3 billion school construction program to minority and women-owned businesses, and required 50% of all workers be minority and 50% be city residents, and exceeded all of those targets.
Opened the then-largest after school, summer school and early childhood programs in the country
Grew enrollment by over 33,000 in a district that in the 15 years prior to Paul’s arrival had suffered a 110,000 student decline.
Increased the teacher cohort by adding over 2,000 CTU teacher members and selected nearly all leadership from the system’s teacher ranks, including the central office education administrators, Regional Superintendent, school, principals and assistant principals.
Negotiated two collective bargaining agreements and two teacher contracts on time and without rancor, which raised teacher salaries by a compounded 21%, preserved longevity salary increases, and protected the “pension pickup,” resulting in labor peace and timely school openings every year.
Created the Children First Fund and raised money in part by using his own honoraria to pay for well over 100 funerals of children who had been the victim of violence in their own communities.
Treated CTU leadership as a full and equal partner with full access to district data, financial information and cabinet deliberations. Even during non-collective bargaining negotiations, Paul and the CTU met monthly and the Chief Academic Officer met weekly with CTU leadership.
Left CPS with 6 straight years of improved academic performance, 12 bond rating upgrades, almost $1 billion in cash balances, and a fully funded teacher retirement system.
No teacher strikes occurred during Vallas' tenure as CEO of the Chicago Public School system.
Based on CPS’ accomplishments during his tenure, what was known nationally as the Chicago miracle was lauded by then-President Bill Clinton as a model of School Reform and Vallas received CRAIN’S Chicago Business “CEO of the Year” and Motorola’s “Excellence In Public Service Award”.
Turnaround of Other Major U.S. City School Districts
After leaving CPS in 2001, Vallas took on similar turnaround assignments achieving success in leading the school systems in Philadelphia and New Orleans.
Under Vallas’ leadership:
Philadelphia was among the most improved school districts nationally for six consecutive years. In fact his success in Philadelphia resulted in Paul being selected by US News and World Report as “One of America’s 20 Best Leaders.”
New Orleans led the state in academic growth for seven consecutive years during a complete rebuilding of the public school system after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, placing every student in a new or renovated building. In order to fast track the total disruption of child education, New Orleans created the nation's first 100% school choice district. Upon his departure, Vallas was awarded the “Key to the City” by the New Orleans City Council.
International Restoration and Reform Record
Later work brought Vallas to Haiti and Chile after the 2010 earthquakes. In Haiti, at the request of the international community and the Government of Haiti, Vallas helped develop a plan to build a publicly funded school system. In Chile, he developed and implemented education programs to improve education supports and outcomes in over 1,000 of Chile’s poorest and often geographically isolated schools. He has also done education systems-turnaround work in Sudan and Pakistan.
Vallas spent much of 2015-2016 as an advisor to the Obama Department of Education developing a plan for improving schools on Native American Tribal Reservations and working with Sally Yates of the Department of Justice to help design and implement a restructuring of the education and occupational programs offered in the nation’s 122 Federal prisons.
For 10 years, Vallas also served as Finance Chair of CORE, actor/global humanitarian Sean Penn’s relief organization that provided shelter, health care and education services for 50,000 displaced Haitians. Core subsequently has done Hurricane relief work in other Caribbean countries and has administered over 2.7 million COVID vaccinations in 8 American cities.