mic_none

Karen Lewis (labor leader) Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Lewis_(labor_leader)

Karen Lewis
Karen Lewis.png
Lewis speaking at Daley Plaza during the 2013 protest of Chicago school closings
President of the Chicago Teachers Union
In office
2010–2014
Preceded byMarilyn Stewart[1]
Succeeded byJesse Sharkey
Personal details
Born
Karen Jennings

(1953-07-20)July 20, 1953
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedFebruary 7, 2021(2021-02-07) (aged 67)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Cause of deathGlioblastoma
Spouse(s)
Arnold Glenn
(divorced)
John Lewis
(m. 2001)
Alma materMount Holyoke College (no degree)
Dartmouth College (BA)
Northeastern Illinois University (MA)
Occupation
  • chemistry teacher
  • labor leader

Karen Lewis (née Jennings;[2][3] July 20, 1953 – February 7, 2021)[4][5][6] was an American educator and labor leader who served as president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Chicago's division of the American Federation of Teachers, from 2010 to 2014. For nearly 20 years before becoming president of the teachers union, she was a high school chemistry teacher.[7]

Early life[edit]

Karen Jennings was born on July 20, 1953 in Chicago's South Side to a family of teachers.[8][9] She attended Kenwood High School, but left after her junior year to attend Mount Holyoke College. Lewis said Mount Holyoke "taught [her] you can do anything [...] to use your mind well [...] to express yourself."[10] She transferred to Dartmouth College in 1972, when Dartmouth became the last Ivy League institution to become co-educational,[11] and was the only African-American woman in the class of 1974.[8] However, she said at Dartmouth "it was clear that women weren't wanted" and called the university "a really bad experience for me, but it made me stronger."[9] She graduated with a degree in sociology and music.[12] After graduation, she married Arnold Glenn and moved to Oklahoma; the couple later divorced.[9] She then earned a Master of Arts degree in inner city studies from Northeastern Illinois University.[13]

Career[edit]

For nearly 20 years, she worked as a chemistry teacher, beginning as a substitute before being hired full-time at Sullivan High School.[7] She later worked for Lane Tech College Prep High School and King College Prep,[7] and said she "measured my success as a teacher by the hugs at the end of the year, by the conversations with kids who say, 'I never thought of it that way.'"[9] In 2001, she married John Lewis, also a Chicago teacher, and the couple lived together in Bronzeville.[9]

She became a member of the Chicago Teachers Union in 1988.[9] Initially, she disliked the union, with her impression being that "they don't want to do any better."[1] Lewis said the incident which inspired her to take an active role with the union happened when she was serving on a school council and saw a school principal using the position to profit his friends.[9] In 2010, Lewis, running with the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), gained control over the CTU by winning 60 percent of the vote in a run-off election.[14] CORE ran an aggressive grassroots organizing campaign and took a strong stance against school privatization.[15] CORE accused the incumbent United Progressive Caucus (UPC) of capitulating to corporate interests, silencing dissent within the union, and collaborating with the city to prevent union outreach at schools.[16] CORE quickly took action to distinguish itself from UPC, reaffirm its grassroots support, and launch a campaign to defend public education. The new leadership cut pay for union officers and used the savings to expand outreach.[17] CORE represented a major bloc of dissent at the 2012 AFT convention, and held signs in protest of Race to the Top during a speech from Vice President Joe Biden.[18]

2012 strike[edit]

CTU strikers in 2012

Several Chicago teachers became disgruntled with the local government in 2012, and said that incumbent Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel, who had been elected a year prior, had failed to deliver a four percent pay raise promised by the city.[9] In early September 2012, Lewis led the CTU on a seven-day strike, which was the first Chicago public school teacher strike in 25 years.[9] Emerging victorious, the union softened the proposed teacher evaluation system, prevented the instituting of merit pay, and ensured protections for veteran teachers in phased out schools.[19] Lewis was re-elected as CTU president for a second three-year term in 2013, and a similar but smaller walkout occurred in 2016.[9]

Potential 2015 mayoral candidacy[edit]

In July 2014, Lewis set up an exploratory committee to consider running for Mayor of Chicago in 2015.[20] In a poll from the same month, Lewis bested Emanuel 45–36 in a hypothetical electoral contest.[21] On October 13, 2014, her exploratory committee announced that she would not run, citing health issues.[22] Instead, Lewis supported Jesús "Chuy" García in the election.[9]

Retirement[edit]

Lewis stepped down as CTU president in 2014 and was replaced by Jesse Sharkey. She retired from the union altogether in 2018, citing health concerns.[23] Following her retirement, Lewis was praised by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, a longtime political enemy, who nevertheless said they had "grown to admire each other as friends."[9]

Awards[edit]

  • 2002 – National Board Certified Teacher in the area of science for adolescents and young adults.[24]
  • 2015 – The Deborah W. Meier Hero in Education Award, presented by FairTest.[25]
  • 2015 – The Mary E. Smith Foundation named a scholarship after Lewis, the "Karen Lewis CTU-CPS Excellence in Science Award."[26]

Personal life and death[edit]

In 1993, Lewis, who was previously a Lutheran, converted to Judaism.[3] She told the Chicago Jewish News in 2013 that she wore a necklace of the Star of David every day.[3] An opera aficionado, she spoke French, Italian, and Latin, and played flute and piano.[12]

On October 9, 2014, Lewis was hospitalized for a "serious illness".[27] On October 13, a source confirmed that Lewis had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, a cancerous brain tumor.[28][9] On February 7, 2021, Lewis died at age 67.[4][5][6] Following her death, the CTU put out a statement saying "Karen did not just lead our movement. Karen was our movement. She bowed to no one, and gave strength to tens of thousands of Chicago Teachers Union educators who followed her lead, and who live by her principles to this day,"[29] and the union told The New York Times that she "dazzled you with her smile, yet could stare down the most powerful enemies of public education and defend our institution with a force rarely seen in organized labor."[9] She received tributes from Emanuel, current Mayor Lori Lightfoot and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Warren, James (November 18, 2011). "Truths and Excesses Do Battle in Speech by Teachers Union Leader". The New York Times. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  2. ^ Goldberger, Ben (October 2, 2012). "Karen Lewis, Street Fighter". Chicago. Archived from the original on April 18, 2016. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c Dubkin Yearwood, Pauline (July 5, 2013). "Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis on why she converted to Judaism 20 years ago and the role it plays in her life and work" (PDF). Better Newspaper Contest. Chicago Jewish News. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 31, 2016. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Former longtime CTU President Karen Lewis dies at 67". WGN. Archived from the original on February 8, 2021. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  5. ^ a b "Former CTU President Karen Lewis Dies After Years-Long Battle With Brain Cancer". WMAQ. February 8, 2021. Archived from the original on February 8, 2021. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  6. ^ a b "Former Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis dies". WGN Radio. February 8, 2021. Archived from the original on February 8, 2021. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d Perez Jr., Juan (February 8, 2021). "Legendary former Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has died. 'She was a fighter and a treasure for this city.'". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  8. ^ a b Furlong, Lisa (May–June 2011). "Karen (Jennings) Lewis '74". Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. Archived from the original on February 2, 2020. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Bosman, Julie (February 8, 2021). "Karen Lewis, Who Fought for Chicago's Teachers, Dies at 67". The New York Times. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  10. ^ Rhame, Laurel (March 26, 2012). "Karen Jennings Lewis '74: Working for Change in the Schools". Mount Holyoke College Alumni Association. Archived from the original on May 16, 2020. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  11. ^ "Dartmouth to Admit Women in Fall '72". The Harvard Crimson. November 22, 1971. Archived from the original on November 12, 2020. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  12. ^ a b Hinz, Greg (August 12, 2013). "So you think you know Karen Lewis?". Crain's Chicago Business. Archived from the original on February 8, 2021. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  13. ^ Soriano, Gary (April 12, 2013). "Karen Lewis Speaks at NEIU". The Independent. Archived from the original on February 2, 2020. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  14. ^ Canon, Ramsin (June 12, 2010). "Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) Takes Over Chicago Teachers Union". Gapers Block. Archived from the original on September 10, 2012. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  15. ^ Canon, Ramsin (May 3, 2010). "The Education Revolt: The Chicago Model's Fallout". Gapers Block. Archived from the original on September 10, 2012. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  16. ^ Abowd, Paul (June 7, 2010). "Chicago's Rank and File Educators Well-Positioned Against "Play it Safe" Incumbents". Labor Notes. Archived from the original on October 21, 2012. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  17. ^ Sustar, Lee (August 31, 2012). "Chicago Teachers Draw a Line". The Indypendent. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  18. ^ Scott, Norm (July 30, 2012). "@AFT – Chicago Teachers Protest RTTT During/After Biden Speech". Ed Notes Online. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  19. ^ Hirst, Ellen Jean; Delgado, Jennifer (September 19, 2012). "It's back to school again for Chicago students". The Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on April 20, 2013. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  20. ^ Koerecki, Natasha (July 15, 2014). "Karen Lewis inches closer to run — crafting exploratory committee". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved August 5, 2015.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ Korecki, Natasha (July 14, 2014). "Exclusive poll: Karen Lewis could give Rahm run for his money". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on July 17, 2014. Retrieved July 18, 2014.
  22. ^ Perez Jr., Juan (October 13, 2014). "Karen Lewis will not run for Chicago Mayor". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on October 14, 2014. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  23. ^ FitzPatrick, Lauren (June 22, 2018). "Karen Lewis retires from CTU to battle cancer: 'I'm not giving up this fight'". The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  24. ^ May, Audrey (2014). "Karen Lewis Biography" (PDF). Chicago Teachers Union. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 19, 2015. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
  25. ^ "Join FairTest in Honoring Karen Lewis and Leon Botstein". FairTest. April 10, 2015. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  26. ^ Smith-Woodson, Tiffany (2015). "The Karen Lewis CTU-CPS Excellence in Science Award". Academic Works, Inc. Archived from the original on February 8, 2021. Retrieved August 3, 2015.
  27. ^ Perez Jr., Juan (October 9, 2014). "CTU may offer details today on Karen Lewis' health". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on October 9, 2014. Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  28. ^ Ahern, Mary Ann (October 14, 2014). "Karen Lewis Has Brain Tumor: Source". WMAQ-TV NBC Chicago. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
  29. ^ Karp, Sarah. "Karen Lewis, Chicago Union Leader Who Set Off A Wave Of Teacher Activism, Dies". WBEZ. Retrieved February 8, 2021.