Payne to serve as interim Chief Education Officer for Chicago Public Schools

Chicago Public Schools interim Chief Executive Officer Terry Mazany has appointed one of the University’s leading experts on urban school reform, Charles Payne, as interim Chief Education Officer of the nation’s third-largest school system.

The appointment, announced at a news conference Friday at Fiske Elementary School in the Woodlawn neighborhood, will last through the end of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s term in May.

Payne, the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor in the School of Social Service Administration, said his primary task for CPS will be to lead the process of writing a new educational plan for the district.

“We can begin to vet and explore some ideas that will help the next mayor and chief executive officer get off to a faster start,” Payne said.

Payne is a member of the University’s Committee on Education and an affiliated scholar with the University’s Urban Education Institute. UEI has a long history of doing research on Chicago Public Schools, as well as operating four charter school campuses, preparing teachers and developing new approaches to help improve education in urban areas. Scholars from UEI have held a number of important advisory and leadership roles for CPS.

Payne also has provided expertise for the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community, a project involving ten public schools in the Woodlawn neighborhood, as well as families and community groups. He said that his experience working in schools would be one of the greatest assets he brings to the new role.

“I know, at a very deep, personal, professional level, what these kids can do,” Payne said. “And I know what teachers and principals can do when they get the proper support.”

Mazany said that Payne’s service to CPS is a natural outgrowth of the strong ties between the University and the school system.

“This is a further testament to the University’s commitment to improving urban education, and to its deep partnership with Chicago Public Schools,” Mazany said.

Payne, whose academic work also has looked at the civil rights movement and issues of social change, has written a number of important books on inequality and urban school reform. He is the author of So Much Reform, So Little Change (2008), which looks at the ways in school reform in Chicago is an unfinished project.

Among his other works are Getting What We Ask For: The Ambiguity of Success and Failure in Urban Education (1984), which looks at the variety of ways problem students can respond to different teachers; and I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (2nd ed., 2007), which is a story of the civil rights movement from the activists’ point of view. He is co-author of Debating the Civil Rights Movement (2nd ed., 2006) and Time Longer Than Rope: A Century of African American Activism, 1850-1950 (2003).

Payne has received a number of awards for I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, including the outstanding academic book from the magazine Choice; the outstanding book award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in the United States; the Lillian Smith Award from the Southern Regional Council and the McLemore Prize from the Mississippi Historical Society. He also received an Outstanding Academic Book award from Choice for Getting What We Ask For.

Payne received a BA in Afro-American studies in 1970 from Syracuse University and a PhD in sociology in 1976 from Northwestern University.

He joined the UChicago faculty after having served as professor of African and African American studies and history and Bass Fellow at Duke. He previously served as professor of African American studies at Northwestern University, and was on the faculties of Haverford College, Williams College and Southern University.

From 1982-86, Payne was executive director of the Urban Education Project in Orange, N.J. As the founding director, he was responsible for program and curriculum development as well as fundraising and staff supervision.

The program in Orange connected disadvantaged students with careers based on technology. His work there increased his interest in school reform, a research focus that continued after he moved to Chicago to become a faculty member at Northwestern.