Chicago Public Schools principal Joyce Kenner to retire after 3 decades

Joyce Kenner, one of the longest-tenured Chicago Public Schools principals, who has led the highly selective and prestigious Whitney Young Magnet High School through academic and athletic success along with several controversies over a nearly three-decade run as principal, is retiring at the end of the school year, she announced Wednesday.

Kenner, 65, has become synonymous with Whitney Young over the years, through both ups and downs and eight permanent CPS CEOs — plus a few interim. She has been a vocal administrator among many afraid to speak against their bosses, while also a target of criticism that she hasn’t always handled student concerns with care.

"I have great anxiety, because this has been my life," Kenner told the Sun-Times in an interview this week. "Almost half my life I’ve spent at Whitney Young.

"I’m nervous about the next stage of my life. This has been a dream job for any educator."


Kenner, only the third principal in Whitney Young’s 47-year history, still had her sights set on bigger dreams, though. She told the Sun-Times in a 2011 interview that she wanted to be CEO of the district: "I’m throwing my name out. I have the background and experience to take us to another level."

Dr. Joyce D. Kenner | Whitney M. Young Magnet High School of Chicago

The principal of course never was tapped for that position in the 11 years since. But she confirmed she expressed interest to city leaders when Janice Jackson stepped down last year. And as she heads toward retirement, her feelings about the top job haven’t changed.

"I still believe that to this day," Kenner said of her ability to serve as CEO. "And I’m not trying to put anyone down, but I think they should have at least offered me the opportunity to interview.

"We have to recognize people who have served in these capacities for as long as they have, and recognize what impact they could have had on the district. … I believe that I would’ve been an exceptional CEO, and one of the reasons is because I’ve been in the trenches."

A Dayton, Ohio, native, Kenner holds degrees from Ohio University and Loyola University. She studied physical education, and started her Chicago career working for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH as the organization’s deputy education director before she moved to CPS.