Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Paul Vallas has seen it all when it comes to struggling school districts. He’s been hired, on an interim basis, to tackle Bridgeport’s struggling “system of schools.”
Brash, decisive, results are all associated with his work in those school districts. Vallas has big ones and understands the political nature of school districts in cities. In 2002 he waged a close Democratic primary for governor of Illinois against the now disgraced Rod Blagojevich. He may be in charge of schools for just one year, but he’s experienced, and gutsy, enough to make some difficult choices and set the foundation for the permanent school chief.
Paul G. Vallas was appointed in May 2007 as Superintendent of the Recovery School District of New Orleans. He is implementing sweeping District-wide reforms in New Orleans, duplicating many of the initiatives that turned the school systems of Philadelphia and Chicago into nationally recognized models for education reform. In New Orleans, Vallas’ reforms promise to create safer schools, better-trained teachers, a unified curriculum, more support for students with special needs and a fiscal plan that improves the financial health of the District. His approach to reforming the RSD is one of inclusion to give parents, staff, community organizations, religious institutions and the New Orleans community a say in their schools. Among the new initiatives he has put into place are after school and summer school programs, a standardized curriculum and a classroom modernization initiative. He also will introduce a network of alternative schools, a student conservation corps and a school-based community policing program. Originally from Chicago, Vallas received a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science and History in 1976 and a Masters in Political Science in 1980 from Western Illinois University.
In his first year at the helm of the Philadelphia public school system, Vallas put in place new initiatives that included after school and summer school programs, a transitional program for students returning from court-appointed placements, a Saturday program for chronically disruptive students and a parent truancy officer program. He installed a new Code of Conduct for students and a “zero tolerance” policy for infractions. His administration also launched a comprehensive academic overhaul of the system’s high schools as well as a five-year, $1.5 billion capital program that is building an unprecedented number of new schools and accomplishing major renovations to many existing ones.
In Philadelphia, the Vallas administration also brought new programs to scale, reduced class size in kindergarten through third grade, implemented new, system-wide math and literacy curriculums and distributed $18 million in textbooks and other materials to support them.
Under Vallas’ leadership, on May 25, 2004, the School District of Philadelphia adopted its first balanced budget in seven years. This $1.9 billion operating budget funds programs that further strengthen early childhood education and literacy, build academic achievement, create safer, more orderly schools, enhance community collaborations and make Philadelphia’s public schools more equitable.
Before coming to Philadelphia, Vallas served as the Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools from 1995 to 2001. While there, he transformed the nation’s third largest school system from what was thought of as “the worst in the country” to “a model for the nation.” Vallas initiated a broad series of educational reforms to reverse the system’s persistent failure. He eliminated a projected four-year shortfall of $1.3 billion within two years and balanced the system’s budget each year thereafter. Vallas fully restored financial stability to the Chicago Public Schools, which earned thirteen bond rating upgrades within a six year period.
During his term, he also implemented an unprecedented capital improvement program by constructing 76 new buildings and renovating more than 500 existing buildings. The program produced a vastly improved learning and teaching environment for the school system. Vallas streamlined the system’s administrative organization by eliminating 1,700 duplicative non-teaching positions and replacing inefficient operations with privately managed services. Vallas is also credited with ending social promotion, the reorganization of Chicago’s high schools, and establishing the largest after-school and summer reading programs in the country. Between 1996 and 2000, student test scores improved by virtually every academic indicator, including six consecutive years of improved elementary reading scores.
Prior to serving as Chief Executive for Chicago’s public schools, Vallas was budget director for the City of Chicago. In this role, he closed that city’s $125 million budget gap and received the first unanimous city council vote for passage of a city budget in over 40 years. Vallas also served as revenue director for the City of Chicago from 1990 to 1993.
Vallas was Executive Director of the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission from 1985 to 1990, where he was responsible for reviewing, analyzing and assessing the legislative impact of state finances on state and local taxes. He also dealt with economic development issues.
Before joining the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission, Vallas served as a policy advisor to the Illinois State Senate. Vallas was the principal advisor to the Senate Elementary and Secondary Education and Appropriations Committees.