Pursuing Peace in Chicago: Ron Huberman Has Spent His First Year as Schools CEO Confronting an Epidemic of Urban Teen Violence

By Schachter, Ron | District Administration, February 2010 | Go to article overview
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Pursuing Peace in Chicago: Ron Huberman Has Spent His First Year as Schools CEO Confronting an Epidemic of Urban Teen Violence


Schachter, Ron, District Administration


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HE'S PATROLLED THE STREETS OF CHICAGO, kept the local trains running on time and become a player in the highest echelons of City Hall. But at age 38, Ron Huberman--born in Israel and raised just outside of Chicago--is facing his most formidable challenge.

The new Chicago Public Schools CEO, who took over from Arne Duncan after President Obama tapped Duncan to lead the U.S. Department of Education, has spent his first year on the $225,000-a-year job addressing a daunting landscape of inner-city violence that students can encounter simply by walking to school.

Huberman is the third CEO appointed by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley since he took over CPS--the country's third-largest school district--in 1995. The first was Paul Vallas, who is best known for rebuilding the sprawling school system's physical infrastructure. Duncan's legacy includes Renaissance 2010, a project he designed with Daley to replace 100 low-performing schools by this year with newly constituted "turnaround" schools and a large number of brand-new charters. Huberman prepped for his seven-year run, starting in 2001, by serving as Vallas' chief of staff.

Now it's Huberman's turn to lead the district's more than 400,000 students and 23,000 teachers. "Chicagoans know Ron to be a devoted public servant who can accomplish any task he is given," Daley declared in January 2009, announcing the appointment of Huberman.

"My experiences with the Chicago Transit Authority and as the mayor's chief of staff had difficult fiscal challenges and challenges around performance, and they let me implement complex management solutions," he says. "They were great grounds to learn what works and doesn't work in large organizations."

Humble Beginnings

Huberman was born in 1971 in Israel to parents who had survived the Holocaust, moving to Tennessee and then to the suburbs of Chicago, as his father, a cancer researcher, changed jobs. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Huberman joined the Chicago Police Department, where he worked as a beat cop and gang specialist before moving into administration.

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"I was looking for a different kind of experience and loved public service, where I could give back," Huberman says of his career decision. "And nothing could be more interesting than being a beat officer." While working for the police department, he added to his public service credentials with a master's degree in business and social service administration from the University of Chicago.

He then served as the mayor's chief of staff and head of the Chicago Transit Authority, when he often took the train to work and was known occasionally to remove unruly passengers.

Security First

At CPS, Huberman hit the ground running with a flurry of initiatives, none so urgent and nationally publicized as his extensive plan for school security and student safety, which will use $30 million in federal stimulus funds over the next three years and draws heavily on the new CEO'S background.

"My years as a police officer, viewing the world from the streets of Chicago, gave me a very good lens on the challenges our students face," Huberman says. "On a very fundamental level, the issues of violence and how it affects communities and schools hasn't changed that much since then."

Michael Shields, the district's director of security, says the city's nearly 300 street gangs and 10,000 gang members--many of whom are Chicago school students--represent a longstanding problem. "Many of these gangs, especially the larger ones, have been in this city for 50 years," says Shields, a former 22-year police veteran. "It's part of the fabric of this city, and it's something we're trying to overcome. Ron has an excellent grasp of how gangs impact schools on the outside and inside."

Shields, who emphasizes that Chicago's schools themselves are generally safe, says the district has been keeping track of casualties to its students outside of school for more than two years.

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