Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is appointing former alderman Michael Scott Jr. to serve on the Board of Education, filling the seat of current board member Dwayne Truss, who was surprised to learn he’s being pushed off the board.
The move comes after Truss indicated last month that he did not support the building of a new $120 million high school in the South Loop, supported by Lightfoot. At the last minute, the project was pulled from the capital budget after it looked like it may not be approved. CPS’s CEO has said he wants the board to revisit the proposal.
In response to a question about whether Truss’ opinion on the high school contributed to the decision not to renew his term, a spokesperson for Lightfoot said “Dwayne Truss’s term expired. Truss is looking forward to new opportunities, and we wish him well.”
Scott is the son of former Board of Education President Michael Scott Sr. and one of three new appointees to the board Lightfoot announced in a press release Friday.
A staunch ally of Lightfoot’s, Scott Jr. previously led the City Council’s Committee on Education and Child Development before abruptly resigning his seat in May to take a job at the film and television production company, Cinespace. Lightfoot nominated his sister, Monique Scott, to replace him. He also previously worked for the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Board of Education.
Scott’s father served on the Board of Education from 2001 until his death in 2009. A political operative under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Scott was involved in land deals that fell through when Chicago’s Olympics bid failed. His death was ruled a suicide.
Truss, who Lightfoot appointed and who Scott is replacing, had expected to continue on the board, telling WBEZ that it was a surprise to him that his term was not being extended.
Lightfoot and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez want to build the new high school Truss opposes. They say the area needs a school for students in Chinatown, the South Loop and Bronzeville who currently are traveling far outside their communities.
But the proposal is especially controversial in a school district with many under-utilized high schools nearby struggling to attract students. Also, the city wants to put the new school on CHA land on which subsidized housing was supposed to be built.
Truss was especially unhappy about the CHA land being used for the school. He said the school district did not do enough community engagement to take the land.
Truss is a West Side activist who spent many years fighting against closing schools and the opening of charter schools.
The exchange of Truss for Scott comes amid big changes for the board of education as it gears up to transition to an elected board beginning in 2025. Just last month, Lightfoot filled a seat that had been vacant for nine months with far South Side activist Joyce Chapman.
Another board member who opposed the new high school, Luisiana Meléndez, also announced last month that she was stepping away from the board.
Along with Meléndez, Businessman Lucino Sotelo also announced he was leaving the board at the end of June.
Truss’ term also expired at the end of last month.
The rest of the board, its staff and district officials had the understanding that Melendez and Sotelo wished to depart but Truss would continue, according to a senior source close to the school board.
“It was a shock” to find out the mayor’s office told Truss last week that he would not be renewed, the source said. Some officials still had not been given official word of his departure by Friday afternoon. And Truss was still involved in meetings and briefings in July, past the expiration of his term — an indication of the sudden nature of his ousting.
Truss also did not receive the same lengthy farewells as Melendez and Sotelo at the June board meeting. They each spoke at length about their time on the board, colleagues shared their gratitude and board staff gave them flowers.
To replace Melendez and Sotelo, Lightfoot is appointing private attorney Sulema Medrano Novak and former CPS employee Paige Ponder.
Ponder worked in Chicago Public Schools from 2008 through 2011 under Daley. She led the office of student support and engagement and an office called Graduation Pathways. She has spent the last decade leading nonprofit organizations, including One Million Degrees, which helps community college students. She left that position last fall and is now the visiting Senior Advisor at the Pritzker Tech Talent Labs at the Discovery Partners Institute.
Medrano Novak serves as a board member for the city’s Human Resources Board, according to the city’s website. The mayor’s office says she plans to resign from that position. She is a private trial attorney on commercial dispute and insurance claims cases and a first-generation college graduate. She previously worked as an Illinois state prosecutor and is “known for defending corporate clients in complex contract and consumer disputes.”
Chicago Sun-Times education reporter Nader Issa contributed to this story.