December 16, 2022

A Note From CPS Leadership

Click here to view this letter in Spanish, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Filipino, Polish, Ukrainian, Urdu, or Vietnamese.
Dear CPS Families, Colleagues, and Supporters,

For many of us, the next few weeks will include holiday festivities, travel, and time spent with family and friends. I know that after the past two challenging years, we are all looking forward to a more “normal” holiday season. But cases of COVID are again on the rise, as are cases of the flu and other respiratory viruses, so we need to be smart about how we celebrate. 

The Good News
The good news is that we’re in a much better place than we were last year when it comes to COVID-19. Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are down significantly compared to last year. Vaccines for everyone 6 months and up are now widely available across Chicago, including at CPS-run vaccine events. For those who have had their initial vaccine series, an updated booster shot which offers increased protection is now available for everyone 6 months and older. These boosters are available at many CPS-run vaccine events for children aged 5 and up. Boosters for eligible children aged 6 months–4 years will be available at CPS-run vaccine events at elementary schools as early as tomorrow, Saturday, December 17, with additional opportunities coming online soon. Please visit to get more information and make an appointment. Finally, we have a stockpile of rapid at-home COVID-19 tests available at every CPS school to any parent or staff member who wants them.

Combatting a Triple Threat
As we would expect during the winter months, COVID cases are again increasing relative to the lower numbers we saw in the fall. And we know that cases rise more quickly when students and staff are gathering outside of school on breaks, leading to higher case counts upon returning to the classroom. Our communities are also being plagued by a growing number of flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases, creating a triple threat this holiday season.

In addition to getting vaccinated against COVID-19, here are the most important steps we can take to protect ourselves and our loved ones and keep these viruses from derailing our holiday plans:
  • While CPS is mask-optional, we highly encourage wearing a mask in school to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other airborne illnesses.
  • Free COVID-19 tests are available at every school, and we strongly encourage students and staff to take them home over winter break and use them before and after gatherings, and before returning to school on Monday, January 9. Free COVID-19 tests are also available via mail from the federal government; please visit to request tests and have them delivered to you. You can also sign up for weekly COVID-19 testing in your school by visiting
    • If you or your child tests positive for COVID-19 at any point, please report the positive test here and please follow the guidance here.
    • A post-infection treatment called Paxlovid has been shown to reduce the worst impacts of COVID-19 and may be recommended for those who are most vulnerable to becoming seriously ill with the virus. Contact your healthcare provider about this option if you test positive for COVID.
  • CPS is offering flu shots alongside COVID vaccines at our four permanent regional clinics and both our elementary and high school mobile programs. For additional opportunities to get a flu shot, visit this page.
  • We urge everyone to practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms is also urged to stay at home and contact your healthcare provider.

Additional Resources for Staying Healthy
This holiday preparedness handout has great information to help families stay healthy and safe this holiday season.

More information on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can lead to bronchiolitis and pneumonia in young children, is available on this fact sheet (English | Spanish) from the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH).

While there have been no documented cases of mpox (formerly known as monkeypox) among minors in Chicago, we are providing more information on the condition in this fact sheet. 
CPS Leadership Honored for Exemplary Service
Douglas Maclin, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and Jadine Chou posing for photo
Earlier this week, our own Jadine Chou, Chief of Safety and Security for the District for the past 11 years, received the Kathy Osterman Award for Outstanding Innovation. This well-deserved recognition from the City of Chicago honors the exemplary work that Chief Chou has done to ensure every school is a place where students feel both physically safe and emotionally supported. 

Since joining CPS in 2011, Chief Chou has worked to reexamine how we view school safety, moving us from a system focused largely on punitive discipline to one built on restorative practices and attention to bias-based harm. She has also led a significant expansion of our District’s Safe Passage program, meaning that thousands more CPS students can travel more safely to and from school. In addition, Chief Chou and her team have worked collaboratively with CPS stakeholders and community partners to develop the District’s Whole School Safety Framework — a holistic approach to school safety that places equal emphasis on physical safety, emotional safety, and relational trust.

Also receiving a Kathy Osterman Award, this one in the category of Outstanding Leadership, was Douglas Maclin, principal of Chicago Vocational Career Academy. Since taking on this role 11 years ago, Principal Maclin has systematically built a culture of high expectations and empathetic teaching practices. He skillfully integrates support from different community and corporate stakeholders and has effectively managed the implementation of several large grants, including the CPS Empowered Schools Grant for Distributed Leadership, the Social Works Chance Grant for Critical Literacies in STEM, and the Crown Family Foundations Grant for Postsecondary Success.

Finally, Sherry Pirtle, the principal of Haley Elementary School on Chicago’s far South Side, was named a Kathy Osterman Award finalist in the category of Outstanding COVID Recovery. 

I congratulate these three outstanding leaders and feel proud and fortunate to count them among our CPS family.


Pedro Martinez
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Public Schools

Take Five with Julia Friedland and Geniz Hernandez: Development Specialists at the Children First Fund
Geniz Hernandez and Julia Friedland pose for photo
Take Five is a series that highlights some of the many CPS staff members who are going above and beyond for our schools. If you know someone who is making a difference, nominate them to be featured here.
In the spirit of holiday giving, we are pleased to introduce Julia Friedland and Geniz Hernandez from the Children First Fund: the Chicago Public Schools Foundation (CFF). Geniz and Julia first started working together as grant writers within the CPS Office of Budget and Grants Management, then moved together to CFF in 2019. 

As Development Specialists at CFF, Geniz and Julia research, identify, and vet potential grants that are aligned with District priorities, then help CPS departments and schools apply for these opportunities. One of their guiding principles throughout this work is equity — Julia and Geniz use the CPS Equity Framework to ensure that any resources coming into the District are distributed fairly and responsibly. 

Can you tell us about the holiday campaigns CFF is working on right now?
Right now, we are really focused on matching partners to schools where the need is the greatest. Whether you’re one person who wants to make a single donation or a company that wants to establish a lasting partnership with a school, we want to make sure we are able to match these donations to the right schools so our students can thrive.

With the help of our community partners, we’ve been hosting celebrations, distributing gifts to students, and trying to spread as much holiday cheer as possible. The past few years have been really hard for our schools, and it feels good to focus on raising spirits in our communities this holiday season.

We also supported the CPS Office of Family and Community Engagement to host the annual Legacy of Love luncheon for the families of CPS students who passed away during the previous year. Those students and families are always close to our hearts and minds, but especially during the holidays. 

How can people get involved in giving back to our school communities?
We recommend donating to our Compassion Fund, which provides direct financial relief to our families and schools. People can donate any amount, and even small donations go a long way. The Compassion Fund will always go where the need is the greatest. For example, our current focus with the Compassion Fund is on getting winter gear like coats and gloves for students, especially newcomers and students in temporary living situations. During the back-to-school season, the Compassion Fund might be more focused on getting school supplies for students. But whatever time of year it is, the Compassion Fund’s purpose is to meet our schools’ urgent needs. If you want to make a donation, you can always visit

Describe each other for a moment — what would you say are each other’s biggest strengths?
Julia: Oh, that's easy. Geniz is the most empathetic person on the planet. No matter what the situation, she approaches everything with such a sense of care and compassion for everyone involved. 

Geniz: Julia is an incredibly intelligent person and has an eye for innovation. She is able to make connections and actually bring great ideas across the finish line. That is not something everyone can do!

What is most meaningful to you about your work?
Julia: I love being able to talk with so many informed and visionary people throughout the District and hear about their dreams and plans for CPS. I think it's amazing to have a chance to contribute to causes I care about and help children access the same opportunities and resources — and even greater ones — than I had access to when I was growing up.

Geniz: When I write something, or I make a pitch to a funder, these ideas I have are still a dream. But the moment that a school gets a grant or a funder says “yes,” these ideas become reality. It feels kind of magical when you find out that students are actually going to benefit from something that was just an idea in your mind. 

What is the best gift you’ve ever given or received?
Julia: When I graduated high school, my aunt got me a ukulele and I taught myself to play! It’s amazing, because I have very small hands and would never really be able to play a guitar. I can play all the songs on Steven Universe, because they're all composed on ukulele. But I want to think of a cooler one… I can also play “The Way I Am,” by Ingrid Michaelson. Actually, that might be less cool.

Geniz: I think the best gift I've ever given was being able to fly my mom out to visit me in September. I hadn't seen her in person in a long time, so it was really nice to be able to pay for her travel and be with her.
Help Us Feature Your Classroom, School, or CPS Team
Want to see the work of your school or CPS team highlighted in this newsletter, on our blog, or across our District’s social media channels? Then please complete this brief form to share your good news! Some topics to consider in the coming weeks include the following:

With the holiday season upon us, we know that many schools like to host festive celebrations and performances. We know that schools also often give back by hosting food drives and other community giving events. Please help us shine a spotlight on these and other events by telling us about them using the form above.
Ms Keyonna Payton posing for a photo
Staff Spotlights
This week, we’re highlighting the hard work of our District’s resident principals. At Westcott Elementary School, Ms. Keyonna Payton is focused on taking an equity-centered approach to help all students grow academically. The foundation of her success as a leader has been the strong relationships she has forged with her mentor principal and assistant principal. Now, she’s using her role to strengthen the connection between her school and its parents. 

And, at Sayre Language Academy, Mr. Marquis Butler wants to inspire his students, especially Black males. He’s drawn on his own experiences as a CPS student to collaborate with teachers and other staff members on strategies to improve students’ grades and attendance. His belief is that you always need to fully understand the problems you are facing before you can develop solutions. He also understands the importance of believing in yourself and wants to encourage his students to do the same.
Students performing at Franklin Fine Arts Center Winter Showcase
A Look Around the District
Schools across Chicago have been getting in the holiday spirit. Franklin Fine Arts Center held its annual winter showcase featuring student performances in dance, art, music, and drama. McCormick Elementary welcomed District 15 of the Illinois State Police for a Build-A-Bear giveaway for its first-grade students. Laura Ward STEM School unveiled its “Forever Closet” to ensure that its students’ needs are met during the holidays and beyond. And