Did you know that Forrest Claypool, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, sends his daughter to a private school? Do you care? I can see why some readers might be scandalized. Others might say “So what?” And some would say it’s nobody’s business.
So what’s an editor to do?
Chicago Tonight reported last month that Claypool “sends his child to Francis W. Parker, an exclusive, private school in Lincoln Park.” The WTTW program went on to say that “Claypool likely would have made the decision to enroll his child months before Mayor Rahm Emanuel tapped him to take over the ailing school system.”
It was a tantalizing piece of information about Claypool. But did it signify anything important?
Sitting in judgment as a former news editor, I’d have said it was newsworthy because there are people out there likely to jump on the information—even though my personal belief is that they shouldn’t. The job of an editor isn’t to filter out all the facts somebody else might blow out of proportion.
Besides, my sense of proportion might not be yours. Two of my daughters graduated from Parker and the third from Saint Ignatius. If they were going to a school CPS shut down or were counting on programs CPS was discontinuing, the news that the CEO’s kids, like the mayor’s kids, were enrolled elsewhere might stick in my craw a little.
Regardless, other editors didn’t agree with my news judgment. As far as I can tell, in the past few weeks none of Chicago’s other major news outlets have picked up the Chicago Tonight story. The only “follow-up” I’m aware of was an e-mail I received from a friend of mine who’s a reporter at one of those outlets. He wondered if I could find out if the Chicago Tonight report was true.
It was a request that sounded simpler than it was. Our family’s long gone from Parker, and I couldn’t think of anyone still there I know well enough to ask casually. I’d have to try to worm out of the school information it had no obligation to give me—an unseemly way to reconnect with my kids’ alma mater.
I let it go. Many days later, I met a woman at a party whose daughter had just transferred from CPS to Parker for ninth grade. It was a huge step for this woman and her husband to take. Their two older kids had gone all through Chicago’s public schools, and she herself was a former CPS teacher. Her husband was a product of Chicago Public Schools. But their daughter would get to be in high school only once—and we don’t martyr our kids.
I understand Forrest Claypool has a child of his own at Parker, I said. His daughter’s in ninth grade too, the woman said. For the same reasons yours is? Could be, she said.
Later she e-mailed me and elaborated on her reasons:
“I saw on the horizon both system-wide troubles, including the $1.1 billion debt and poor prospects for negotiating a teachers’ contract, and school-level problems, such as fewer resources, more ‘top-down’ demands, and tightened control of decisions that were previously made by LSCs [local school councils] and principals. In the end, we felt pulled into Parker (I’ve a master’s degree in education and saw much of what’s supposed to happen in schooling happening there) and pushed out by CPS.”
She doesn’t begrudge Claypool for making the same decision. But her e-mail went on:
“I do know that he was absent from the screening of a compelling documentary about rethinking high school (Most Likely To Succeed), which was shown at Parker last Thursday, followed by a panel discussion about the topic. My daughter and I both thought that he, as the head of CPS, might have benefited from seeing it.”
Claypool didn’t comment publicly in response to WTTW, and his media office told me he wouldn’t comment now. My reporter friend says his office decided the story wasn’t big enough to go with, so they decided to sit on the Parker connection until some bigger education story comes along that they can slip it into.
That’s one way to handle tricky information: finesse it. My choice is to put it out there and let you be as indifferent or disapproving as you want. If Claypool had gotten his daughter into an elite-admission public school like North Side Prep, you might be more outraged. If he’d sent his kids to a Catholic school like Saint Ignatius, you might be less.
So it’s yours for whatever you think it’s worth. That’s always up to the reader.