Dwayne Truss, a longtime Austin resident and Chicago Public Schools graduate, has been appointed to the Chicago Board of Education.
Truss, who ran unsuccessfully for the 29th Ward aldermanic seat earlier this year, had backed Mayor Lori Lightfoot in her mayoral race.
Hours after the new mayor announced the appointments of all seven board members, Truss said he shares Lightfoot's vision for education in Chicago.
"I am blessed to be serving the children and join the hardworking staff of Chicago Public Schools to build upon the success and continue forward," said Truss, who works as a tax auditor for the state.
Truss said he'll strive to serve all of CPS' roughly 362,000 students and help rectify what he said have been education shortcomings on the West Side.
He said the board needs to make sure the state's largest school district is serving all areas of the district equitably. He pledged to continue what Lightfoot has started: engaging the community and parents in the education of students.
"We are going to tap into educators and principals and see what is needed at the schools," said Truss, 56. "They know what is needed, and we want to make sure we are doing the proper thing."
Parents must be engaged to help the district assess its needs, he said. "We are going to be fair and transparent."
Lightfoot's school board appointments come the day after the Illinois General Assembly ended its spring session during which lawmakers considered legislation to create an elected Chicago school board.
House Bill 2267, however, stalled in the Illinois Senate after Lightfoot expressed concern about the size being proposed for an elected board (21 members). During her mayoral campaign, Lightfoot repeatedly pushed for an elected school board.
Wendy Katten, founder of Raise Your Hand for Illinois Education, has worked closely with Truss since the two met in 2011. He served on Raise Your Hand's board, attending and speaking at many Chicago Board of Education meetings.
"He has always been a huge advocate for public schools and a great community organizer," Katten said. "He is very knowledgeable about policies and intent on really examining things."
Truss, a strong proponent of public schools who has also served on local school councils, wants all neighborhoods served well by CPS, she said.
"The West Side has been neglected," Katten said. "If you look at previous (school) board members, policies, their impact and the disinvestment, it is completely different from what Dwayne is doing. … It is huge to have someone who really knows the area. Dwayne will be an amazing advocate for the West Side."
Jennie Biggs, communications and outreach director for Raise Your Hand, said Truss will help the board look at things holistically.
He "will help keep the lens on what youth truly need in their communities," Biggs said.
Raise Your Hand praised Truss' appointment in its newsletter Monday: "He played an instrumental role in shaping our organization and is a phenomenal human and advocate for public schools. Dwayne mentored many of us over the years, and we look forward to working with him."
Truss and the rest of the volunteer school board will be sworn in on June 26; it's not clear how long their terms will be.
Truss said he would not be where he is today or done as much work on the West Side without his wife of 32 years, Cata Truss. They have five sons, all of whom graduated from CPS, and eight grandchildren, some of whom have attended CPS.
"His vote will be a vote for the entire community," said Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church.
Acree has served as Truss' pastor for years, and both have advocated for education in Austin. Acree said Truss will not back down on any issue he believes is important and that he is a perfect fit for the board because he is not new to the pressing issues facing CPS.
Truss isn't afraid to speak his mind either. Acree remembered a time when the two disagreed on an issue, and Truss wrote an op-ed supporting his side.
"There were never any personal feelings," Acree said. "I always felt respect and admiration towards him for taking a stand in what he believes in."
The alderman Truss unsuccessfully challenged in the February election congratulated Truss in a Facebook post: "Your decades of commitment to our communities and schools is quite evident to all, including Mayor Lightfoot. Thank you for your continued commitment to serving our city," Ald. Chris Taliaferro wrote.
Truss grew up in West Garfield Park and has been devoted to improving life on the West Side, including helping ensure the construction of the George Westinghouse College Prep High School, and renovation of the Austin College and Career Academy High School and the ball fields at Columbus Park.
Without commenting directly on Truss' appointment, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey issued a statement in which he said: "CPS continues to be plagued by the chronic lack of transparency, accountability and democracy that underpins mayoral control — and it's time for the mayor to keep her campaign promise for an elected, representative school board."
He criticized the mayor for not delivering on her campaign promise before state lawmakers adjourned Sunday.
"She refused, instead doing what Rahm Emanuel did for eight years: pushing Senate President Cullerton to derail that legislation while refusing to engage with the very grassroots forces that have been fighting for this most democratic right," Sharkey said in a statement.
At the press conference Monday at which the new board members were unveiled, the mayor said she still supports an elected school board but thinks it's important to be thoughtful about how the board is constructed.
"It's not just the 21 members, which I think is really setting up any board for chaos," Lightfoot was quoted as saying in the Chicago Tribune.
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