Deborah Quazzo CPS Letter
May 28, 2018
To my Friends, Family, and GSV Partners,
As many of you know, from 2013-2015, I was a proud Board member and steward of the Chicago Public Schools (“CPS”). It was one of the greatest honors and privileges of my life to serve CPS given my passion for providing ALL children equal access to a great education and my deep love of Chicago.
As many of you also know, for the last three and one-half years, I have been part of an ongoing, albeit intermittent investigation by the Chicago Public Schools Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) into possible conflicts of interest with my education technology investments. Articles in the Chicago Sun-Times that used partial information spawned the investigation. The OIG’s March report, discussed below, inadvertently confirmed the Sun-Times intentional omission. The OIG subsequently hired members of the Chicago Sun-Times team.
For more than twenty years, my goals have been to identify and support companies that deliver high-impact educational results and promote equity and access for all students. Over these years, I have garnered extensive knowledge and experience as an investor and advisor within the education technology sector. I was asked to join the CPS board due to that experience, coupled with my longstanding professional and philanthropic commitment to build school environments where ALL students can best learn and thrive.
My desire to serve on the CPS Board was anchored in our collective mission: to make sure that CPS students have the education and supports that they need and richly deserve. I freely dedicated my time to the CPS Board and continued to provide very substantial philanthropic support to CPS students and CPS school programs during my two-year tenure. Throughout my tenure, I adhered to the highest standards of integrity and professionalism, and I never sought personal financial gain.
The OIG submitted his confidential report on my investigation to the Chicago Board of Education in March 2018. My counsel was notified at the time by Chicago Public Schools that the report found no violation of law and no action was being taken related to me. Unable to fully publish the report, the OIG recently leaked the full report to the Chicago Sun-Times, to the same reporter who wrote the prior stories. She reached out to me last week notifying me that she had the full leaked report. Aware of the leak, I then received the report from Chicago Public Schools two days later. It is deeply concerning to me that a public official serving Chicago’s students and tasked with investigating ethical and legal issues can do so while flagrantly exhibiting his own ethical breach.
In the report, the OIG did in fact determine that I did not violate any laws and that no action will be taken. However, the OIG report casts aspersions on my character via a series of unseemly tactics, and I cannot leave those unaddressed. As a prime example, despite the OIG stating very clearly and repeatedly that I had nothing whatsoever to do with abusive and criminal behavior of the former Chicago Public Schools Superintendent, the OIG attempts to manufacture a linkage by combining my report with hers. I do apologize for the length of this memo but I felt it important to call out specific details, like that one, from the report to illustrate specific fallacies. The important points are below, and the record reflects the following:
1) I fully and completely disclosed each of my education investments before, during and after my Chicago Public Schools Board tenure. I also proactively implemented a quarterly update with the CPS General Counsel that was not required.
While the report concedes that I was transparent in my full disclosure of my investment holdings, it suggests technical errors in paperwork. I worked closely with the CPS General Counsel and additionally hired outside counsel twice to ensure full disclosures. I have been an executive in a highly regulated industry for over 30 years. I understand the gravity of compliance and never once have had any issue. My investment holdings have always been on my public website as well.
2) In my 20+ year role as an education technology expert, I did and do appropriately advocate for proven high performing educational products that drive better outcomes for students. I referred to the importance of educational efficacy repeatedly in my school discussions and correspondence with principals during my Board tenure. And as a Chicago Public School Board member who took her role very seriously, I visited over 50 schools meeting with inspiring principals across the City in order to develop better perspectives on a host of issues. In every instance I conducted myself in full observance of the CPS Board’s Code of Ethics.
The report suggests that I may have violated Board ethics rules in meeting with and corresponding with school principals about efficacious education products. At no time did I ever engage in a discussion about product procurement. In fact, the report failed to quote an email exchange where a Principal tried to enlist my help with the District in procuring a specific product. I immediately told the Principal that I could not do that, and asked to be removed from the email and reported the exchange to the CPS General Counsel. Additionally, the report attempts to twist my usage of the term “bias.” Yes, I always identify my “bias.” If I have an interest in a company, I want people to know that upfront. That is representative of my commitment to strong compliance and complete transparency.
I would also note the report’s attempt to insinuate conflicts where none exist. One of my cited visits was to Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep. The Principal had been using products from two companies I was invested in with extraordinary success well before I ever met him. In fact, then Principal and now Superintendent Janice Jackson had recommended one of the products to the Principal of Brooks because of the academic success she had experienced with her students. When I met the Brooks Principal, Brooks had just had the highest improvement in ACT scores in the District thanks in part to these highly efficacious products. Obviously, I had nothing to do with the products’ procurement as they were obtained well before the Principal met me; so highlighting this in the report is nonsensical and frankly outrageous.
3) I completely recused myself from a Board vote on the one contract (ThinkThroughMath) that came to the Board for a vote and in which I had an investment interest. I in no way violated that recusal and to suggest otherwise is factually incorrect.
While the report repeatedly states that I in no way influenced the ThinkThroughMath RFP, the OIG tries to suggest that I somehow partially broke my ThinkThroughMath recusal during a dinner at my home. First, as was acknowledged in the report, I neither initiated nor participated in any inappropriate communication with the ThinkThroughMath CEO or the Superintendent about the RFP during the RFP quiet period. As for my recusal from the vote, it was complete and inviolate. On the day I submitted my recusal to the Board office I had a longstanding dinner engagement at my home with the Superintendent, my husband and our teenage son. The Superintendent had completed the RFP and was not a member of the Board. I had recused myself from the Board vote that day. That evening, we acknowledged that the RFP win by ThinkThroughMath was now public to the Board. The Superintendent made a favorable comment about ThinkThroughMath, which I related to the ThinkThroughMath CEO. Suggesting that I violated my recusal is contrary to how I conducted myself and to the facts.
I joined the CPS Board because I felt like I could make a difference given my longstanding commitments to education innovation and to equity and access for all students in the Chicago Public Schools and in the country. My motives were clear – to serve and to make an impact. I am thankful that the OIG investigation has come to a close, and we can return the focus to our students and to the great strides that CPS is making to serve our students effectively. CPS stands as a shining example of what diverse, committed leadership can do to transform and revitalize a large school system. I look forward to continuing to support CPS and our extraordinary students across Chicago.
I remain deeply grateful for having had the privilege to serve.
May 28, 2018
Dear Mr. Clark,
Through a chance encounter, in an elevator, after a CPS Board meeting, I met the most genuine, empathetic, and resilient woman. That woman was Deborah Quazzo and she would ultimately change the trajectory of my life. I met Deborah in 2013, because I was chosen to be one of the 20 high school juniors to be part of the CPS CEO Student Advisory Council. Deborah’s big and genuine heart gifted me the opportunity to take ACT prep classes with some of the top trainers in the city. I asked if this same opportunity could be extended to one of my closest friends at the time. Deborah did not hesitate to allow both Meredith and I to receive the amazing benefits of the ACT prep classes. Because of this amazing opportunity I noticed improvements in my ACT scores.
Moreover, as a DACA dreamer mapping out my future has not been an easy task, but my mother instilled in me that getting a good education was the key to having a successful future. I graduated from Benito Juarez Community Academy. I was extremely active in community outreach projects, as well as several academic and extracurricular clubs, while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. I always wanted to pursue higher education, but getting there was not as easy as I thought it would be. I was accepted into a number of colleges but as a DACA dreamer, financial aid was extremely limited and in many cases was not an option.
In one of our check-in meetings, at the Cheese Cake Factory, Deborah asked about what colleges was I thinking about. My dream was to attend Denison University and I had all but written off any possibility of going there due to the cost. I was admitted to Denison and invited to a student campus visit; of which I had no plans of attending. However, Deborah made this into a wonderful reality for me. She flew me to Ohio for the student visit. (This was my first time on an airplane - which she made possible!) While at Denison, I fell in love with the campus, the people, and their rigorous academics. Although I was set on attending community college and working part time, Deborah told me we would make it happen, little did I know my American Dream was about to come true.
Having Deborah on the Chicago Public School Board really changed my life. She took me under her wing and advocated for me, so that financial aid wouldn’t be a limitation to attend college. She organized a group of generous Chicagoans to fund a full ride scholarship for all four years to Denison. I couldn’t believe it then and some days I still don’t believe it now. But it is real and I am thriving in college, and it continues to challenge me in ways I didn't know possible. I wouldn’t be thriving, as I am today, if it were not for Deborah’s genuine passion and the belief in the power of education to transform lives.
Having her on the CPS School Board was one of the greatest things that could have ever happened. She has brought a tremendous amount of financial relief to my mother and I. This financial relief has allowed me to simply be a college student without having to deal with the stress of working and studying. My mother now worries less about having to decide whether to pay rent or pay my tuition. Meeting Deborah, through her involvement with the CPS School Board, has opened doors and helped me to find my voice. Deborah inspires me every day to become the greatest version of myself. She demonstrates this through her unique love and genuine passion she gives to the world. I truly believe everyone should have a Deborah Quazzo in their life.
To sum up, Deborah has gone above and beyond in the support she’s given me. She has taken the time to get to know me and understand the experiences I have gone through. Deborah has provided so much emotional support in moments where I felt like giving up. One of the many things I appreciate her for is the fact that she creates an environment where I feel safe and comfortable enough to be my authentic self. It was not a mistake to have Deborah on the CPS Board because she has created a ripple effect on me. I am a mentor who guides and give back in similar ways Deborah has done for me.
May 28, 2018
Statement about Deborah Quazzo
In 2013, I was given the opportunity to interview with Deborah Quazzo for a position as her family assistant. Little did I know when I accepted the job it would change the trajectory of my life in ways I did not know were possible. A few months after I started working for the Quazzo family, Deborah had a chance encounter in an elevator after one of her CPS meetings where she met AMR, a junior in CPS high school and a member of the district student advisory board. Deborah invited her to breakfast to discuss her future; during the meeting, AMR said she was going to be taking the ACT soon and was concerned about her score. Deborah extended an offer to send her and one of her friends to ACT test prep at Academic Approach, one of the best programs in the city. Over the coming weeks and months Deborah gave me the opportunity to mentor AMR with her as she thought it could be a good pairing for both of us. I was pursuing my BA from DePaul in Education, due in no small part to Deborah’s insistence that I could do this and her willingness to give me a flexible schedule. What boss do you know that thinks of their employee’s education above all else? No one, that’s who, unless you are Deborah Quazzo. That is one of the many reasons that made her uniquely qualified to be on the CPS Board of Education and one of its greatest assets. She recognized that all students deserve a quality education and was determined to do everything she could to make that a reality for the students in Chicago.
Over the following weeks and months, we met with AMR often, and slowly learned her life story. She was a DACA dreamer and life for her and her mom had been anything but easy. Deborah was determined to make college possible for AMR; in every meeting she created a free and easy space to exchange ideas. The fundamental theme was making sure AMR knew anything was possible and she would go to college. You must understand: when Deborah is committed, she is all in 100% and she was able to convey this to AMR in a way that was meaningful and made her strive to do better. I watched this shy girl (who barely said twenty words the first time we met) finally have hope and believe she deserved a higher education. She had a newfound determination to improve her ACT scores and get accepted to Denison University in Ohio, her dream school.
During one of our many check-in meetings, AMR casually mentioned she had been accepted to Denison and was invited for a campus visit but had no intention of going. She couldn’t afford the trip, and even if she could, she would not be able to pay for tuition. Deborah said, “If you want to go, I will make it happen,” and she did. The following week, AMR and I were off to Denison. She was 18 years old and had never flown, the look of delight on her face was everything just and right in the world. She was snap-chatting away like she had won the lottery; in many ways she had. It is the simple things we take for granted that mean so much to her. The second she saw the campus I could tell she had fallen in love, but I decided to reserve my opinion until the end of the trip. When I came back to campus 3 days later to pick her up, AMR was talking a mile a minute about the campus, students, professors, and groups on campus. I knew this was her school. We decided to go to the financial aid building and see what her options were; unfortunately, Denison confirmed what we knew already. Because she was a DACA dreamer she did not qualify for financial aid and the scholarship they offered was only enough to cover a small portion of the tuition. She had resigned herself to going to a local community college and working to help pay for it. I knew she was heart broken and yet she was so grateful to have been able to have the experience. When she told Deborah what happened she said, “Don’t worry -- if you want to go there, we will make it happen.”
Having Deborah on the CPS Board of Education allowed AMR to be the first generation in her family to attend college. I have had the fortunate pleasure to watch this young lady become a phoenix under Deborah’s mentorship; she found her voice, she advocates for social justice, she is a peer mentor and will be an R.A. next year. Deborah is a dream maker who made AMR’s American dream a reality. She gives of her time and generous nature effortlessly, thinking of others before herself, because she 100% believes that everyone has a right to a quality education. I firmly believe that if everyone could have a Deborah Quazzo in their life, they too would benefit from her vast knowledge and resources that she shares unconditionally.
I thank you for your time and I am more than happy and willing to entertain any questions. I consider myself fortunate every day for her mentorship and am happy to report that due to her tireless support I did earn my BA from DePaul in Child Studies in 2016, again proving she makes dreams come true.