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Top Chicago Schools Leader Moving On

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Barbara Eason-Watkins, the Chicago school district's chief education officer, is leaving to become superintendent of Michigan City Area Schools, the Indiana-based school district announced today.

Jim Kintzele, president of Michigan City's board, said in a statement released today that Eason-Watkins will be formally appointed to the position in a special board meeting soon and would start July 1.

"I am truly honored to be selected as the next Superintendent of the Michigan City Area Schools, and I look forward to working closely with the Board of Trustees, teachers, staff members, and the entire Michigan City community as we continue to improve our schools," Dr. Eason-Watkins said in a statement.

Michigan City is a different world from Chicago, where Eason-Watkins has worked for more than 30 years. The district has just under 7,000 students and is 54 percent white. Chicago has more than 400,000 students, is 86 percent black and Hispanic and is the nation's third-largest school district, behind New York City and Los Angeles.

Eason-Watkins is considered by many in the Windy City to be the force behind much of the district's progress in the past decade, using her three decades of experience in the system and track record as a principal to bring needed reforms.

She became the Chicago school district's chief education officer in 2001, working under now-U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who was then newly appointed as the school district's chief executive officer. The reform plans of Eason-Watkins and Duncan have been under increased scrutiny over the past year as Duncan has used a number of them to fashion federal education policy, especially in turning around low-performing schools.

Some notable Chicagoans, including The Rev. Jesse Jackson, protested last year when Mayor Richard M. Daley passed over Eason-Watkins and instead appointed Ron Huberman, then head of the city's transit system, to run the school district. Duncan was among those who reportedly lobbied for her to be his successor.

Duncan lavished praise on his former No. 2 in this statement: "Dr. Eason-Watkins deserves a lot of the credit for Chicago's progress over the past decade. She is a world-class educator who gives her heart and soul to helping every child in every school learn. It was a great honor to work with someone as experienced, knowledgeable, and thoughtful as Barbara. She will be a great asset to the Michigan City school system."

No word yet on who will replace Eason-Watkins in Chicago.

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