Lori Torres credits her parents for instilling the love and respect for education that led her to teaching. They came to Chicago from Puerto Rico as teenagers and, speaking only Spanish, struggled in school.
“I learned from their experiences that not being an English language speaker was frowned upon and that is one of the reasons they made education a priority in our home growing up and why I started out as a bilingual teacher,” she said.
Torres was born and raised in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood in a family of six kids. Her parents made education and respect for their community a priority.
“They raised us around our extended families and helped us build an understanding of community and the interconnectedness that comes from it,” she said. “And that community extended outside of the walls of our home and into the other parts of our world.”
That sense of community connectedness now guides Torres’ teaching philosophy and also inspires her campaign for alderwoman of the 36th ward.
“I want to help build a city that listens to the voices of the many instead of the few,” Torres said.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Illinois University, Torres, a CPS graduate herself, began in the district as a full-time substitute at the now-shuttered Bethune Elementary. She then moved, as a sub, to Pulaski Elementary and Funston Elementary before landing a full time position at Monroe Elementary in 2005, where she teaches Spanish with an emphasis on Latino History and Culture. She earned her masters in educational leadership and administration while working at Monroe — and raising a family.
As alderwoman, Torres’ priorities will be equitably funded schools, ethics reform, fair property taxes, safety and a family-first budget — issues that have been near and dear to her heart as an educator, CTU Executive Board member and working mother of three.
Like many rank-and-file CTU members, Torres recalled the 2012 strike as a turning point for her and for the city.
“The strike was a big turning point for me — it was the most powerful team building event of my life,” she said. “Under the leadership of Karen Lewis, we showed this city, state, and this country that our fight for an education system that did right by its students, families, and employees had to be known to the world.”
During the strike, she felt the power of the union for the first time.
“Our leadership believed in social justice unionism and that our collective voices held the power,” she said. “Karen was a phenomenal conductor of a choir that had long gone unheard.”
The historic labor action ignited the advocate in Torres. She took advantage of the new organizing opportunities the union offered and said she found the courage to speak out against injustice in her school and community. She began knocking on doors to promote a school closure moratorium. She joined the fight for affordable housing in her Humboldt Park neighborhood and for an elected representative school board.
“Through all this work, I began to see how the concerns in my community and the concerns in my school were intersected,” she said. “Our neighbors began to see the lack of options in our kids’ school and, at school, we began to see a decline in student population as a result of families being priced out of the community.”
Torres’ parents believed education was the key to their children’s success. She holds a similar view but sees many problems in CPS. Top on that list is the cruel selective enrollment system that “forces students to fight their way to a fully resourced school.”
“That system leaves out so many kids who would be the best in their field, students who could be the next Sonia Sotomayor or Charles Drew,” she said.
Or, the next alderwoman of the 36th Ward.