‘The voice of the Board of Education’ longtime secretary Estela Beltran to retire after 37 years

She introduced — and kept on track — 15,000 public meeting participants. Led 302 meetings and hearings. Attested to 23,070 contracts. Worked for seven board presidents and 44 board members. Served under 11 superintendents and CEOs.

Estela Beltran, the longtime secretary for Chicago’s Board of Education, is retiring at the end of February after 37 years with Chicago Public Schools — the past 21 in the role leading board business and meetings.

“Estela is like a walking Wikipedia of CPS- and board-related documents,” said Susan Narrajos, the assistant board secretary who has worked with Beltran for 11 years and is expected to step into her role.

“When people say Estela possesses tremendous institutional knowledge, I agree she does, but not only does she have that institutional knowledge, she is the institutional knowledge.”

A few dozen CPS officials recognized Beltran at Wednesday’s monthly Board of Education meeting, showering her with flowers and tributes. A board resolution honoring Beltran — which she had to read into the record and ask the board to adopt toward the end of the meeting — commended “her patience, grace, decorum and wise counsel in every situation” and called her “a person of great thoughtfulness and commitment who has unselfishly served the cause of education and this school district and its students.”


Flowers and gifts sit behind the board of education secretary Estela Beltran during a board meeting at the Chicago Public School headquarters doing a board meeting at 42 W Madison, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Beltran is retiring as the speaker after 37 years of service. I Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Best known for her calm, recognizable voice leading board meetings, Beltran started her career at CPS in 1986 as a clerk trainee and principal stenographer in the Insurance Department. She transferred to the Law Department a few years later to continue her work as a stenographer, rising up the ranks and eventually transitioning to the Board of Education staff in 1996.

A video montage played during the meeting Wednesday featured some of Beltran’s greatest hits (her most commonly used phrases) that are etched in most Chicago education observers’ heads, including, “Our next speaker, Mr. President,” “I will now continue with additional items on the public agenda,” “we’ll have speaker No. 41,” “thank you for your comments” and “Mr. President, these items do require a vote.”

“Thank you all so much for this recognition and your kind words,” Beltran said. “The video that was presented brought back a lot of memories, and it makes me reflect on everything I have accomplished thus far.

“This definitely is one of the most memorable times in my life that I will cherish forever. It has been a long journey to get to this day.”


Board of education secretary Estela Beltran looks at her notes prior to resuming a board meeting at the Chicago Public School headquarters doing a board meeting at 42 W Madison, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Beltran is retiring as the speaker after 37 years of service. I Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Beltran said she plans to travel in her retirement and spend time with her family.

Beltran’s brother, Efren Beltran, stepped up to address the board and honor his sister, and Board President Miguel del Valle joked, “Estela will give you two minutes.”

“This meeting speaks volumes of what we already knew about Estela. My mom and my dad would be extremely proud,” Efren Beltran said, thanking officials for their “support and flexibility during difficult times” when Estela cared for her parents as they aged and passed.

“But I know she never dropped the ball too,” he said.

“Estela, felicidades. We’re here to help you enjoy the times ahead.”

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said he “can’t even think of CPS without Estela.” He first met Beltran in 2003 during his first stint at the district. Central office staff “weren’t always looking forward” to board meetings, Martinez said, but Beltran gave a sense of calm during chaos.

“We would just look at Estela, and Estela would always make sure things kept moving. And always with that smile, always with the very kind eyes,” Martinez said.

Board member Michael Scott Jr., the former alderman whose father served as Board of Education president in 2009 before he passed, said Beltran is “the last remaining person from the administration when my father was here.”

“It, for me, is so bittersweet to see you leaving because it reminds me that one, my father’s not here,” Scott said. “But two, people who treated him so well and who loved him are no longer around.”

Elizabeth Todd-Breland, who was appointed to the board in 2019, said board members “may be fleeting, but you are the steady constant that keeps this going.”

“I’m a young 40, Estela,” Todd-Breland said. “Almost my entire life, you’ve been working for Chicago Public Schools, and you have been serving the young people, you have been serving our staff, our families, our system.

“For those in the public space, you see Estela, even her voice, she is the voice of the Board of Education.”

Todd-Breland commended Beltran for her work to “keep this fourth largest school district in the country going” even as her workload increased because of a smaller board staff.

Another board member, Joyce Chapman, reminisced on the times she was “on the other side of the fence” addressing the board as a parent activist.

“I can remember your grace, your poise,” Chapman said. “I always remember, ‘Can you conclude, Ms. Chapman?’

“I thank you so much. And I will conclude.”

Source : https://chicago.suntimes.com/education/2023/1/25/23571281/voice-board-education-longtime-secretary-estela-beltran-retire-after-37-years

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