CHICAGO - Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Pedro Martinez will be the next head of Chicago Public Schools, becoming the first Latino to be Chief Executive Officer of the nation's third-largest school district.
Martinez previously served as the superintendent as San Antonio Independent School District.
The announcement was a homecoming for Martinez. He graduated from Benito Juarez High School and attended both the University of Illinois and DePaul University.
He was the chief financial officer for CPS when Arne Duncan was CEO before heading the San Antonio schools.
Last month, he defied the Texas governor by issuing a mask mandate and a staff vaccination mandate in the district. He intends to take the wheel of CPS to guide the district though the pandemic.
"I know as a parent, and I share the concerns of other parents, I understand. My children don’t have access to vaccines. I understand the fears," Martinez said.
Born in Mexico, Martinez and his family moved to Chicago when he was 5.
Martinez grew up in the Pilsen neighborhood.
"Throughout the entirety of our search for CPS's next CEO, we remained laser-focused on selecting a candidate that not only has expertise overseeing a public school system as large and diverse as Chicago's, but shares the lived experiences of our students and their families," Lightfoot said in a statement. "I am beyond pleased to share that Pedro exceeds these requirements and his historic appointment as CPS's first Latinx CEO is a true value add to our entire city."
Martinez's appointment replaces interim CEO Jose M. Torres, who temporarily filled the role after the resignation of Dr. Janice Jackson.
The change comes at a critical time for the district, which fully resumed in-person classes last month even as COVID-19 cases remain high in Chicago, with an average of 430 infections reported daily. District leaders and the Chicago Teachers Union remain at odds over COVID-19 safety measures. Several top leaders left at the same time as Jackson.
Martinez boasts over two decades of experience in the education sector.
"I am honored to join Chicago Public Schools and work with this incredible team and build upon the success to make CPS the best large school district in the country," Martinez said in a statement. "Education is the best equalizer in society, and I will work every day to strengthen our public schools for generations to come. As an immigrant from Mexico whose roots began in Pilsen, I understand a focus on equity and commitment to engaging communities and elevating student and family voices are central to the task at hand."
Martinez moves back to Chicago as the district moves toward an elected school board.
Martinez, Lightfoot and other speakers promised parents would have a voice in the future of education.
There was a protest during the news conference. Parents said they should have been included in the announcement.
Martinez said he hopes to unite the district and plans to encourage vaccines as he works to address other longtime issues in the largely low-income district where most students are Latino or Black.
"The enemy is COVID. The enemy is is the systemic racism we've had in our country. The enemy is poverty. There are many enemies. We are on the same side," he said. "We are going to unite people because we are on the same side."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.