Rochester’s “loss” is really Chicago’s


Chicago Tribune photo

Mayor-elect Emanuel has announced he will hire Jean-Claude Brizard as our next CPS CEO.

Rahm also introduced his appointees for school board. More on that later.

At least Brizard has the credentials to be a superintendent, unlike any of Mayor Daley’s appointees. He was a science teacher and a principal in New York City before moving up into administrative positions. So, thank you, Mayor-elect Rahm. That’s something we’ve been asking for.

That’s about where the good news ends, however.

Although Brizard has an education background, he is also a graduate of the Broad Academy, which trains people to become handmaidens of the corporate school privatization agenda.

Brizard was skating on thin ice in my old home town, Rochester, NY, where he has been schools superintendent for about three years. The school board liked him, and just renewed his contract. But teachers just carried out a “no confidence” vote by a huge margin, a move unprecedented in the city. And parents don’t seem to like him any better:

“He’s making it clear that he does not value parents and community members as partners in terms of developing a solution to this crisis,” said (Rochester) parent Howard Eagle.

Howard is a new Parents Across America member, as is Mark Friedman, who recently wrote,

While it is certainly true that other districts may be eyeing Brizard, I personally can attest to the fact that educators and community members in many school districts throughout the country recognize, rather than minimize, exactly how toxic Brizard’s philosophies and style of leadership are for a district. As the growing frustration with Brizard from the community has built up, more and more people in other places have identified Brizard and his baggage as an unwanted liability, not an asset to be fought after.

The no confidence vote stated that Brizard closed schools without community input, a problem that has reached crisis proportions here in Chicago, so much so that our state legislature is in the process of passing a new law to force Chicago to act more collaboratively and responsibly in its facilities decisions.

The vote further stated that Brizard expanded standardized testing, cut the arts, increased class size, brought in more charter schools, and overall followed the corporate agenda to privatize public schools.

A 2010 audit of the school district showed that "The district didn't have consistent standards for grading students, so grade-point averages varied from school to school. It didn't consistently document the enrollment of district students in charter schools and sometimes paid charter schools for students who weren't city residents. It didn't have standards for buying information technology to make sure that it was compatible with the district's existing infrastructure. There wasn't a good procedure for getting information about "seat capacity" - how much room there was in a grade or class, and how many students could enroll - and there was no process for identifying when students had dropped a class or left a school."

Let’s not pretend that this choice is a surprise. Rahm was not about to appoint someone of the caliber, thoughtfulness, and professionalism of a Terry Mazany, the current Interim CEO, a Dr. Victoria Chou, Dean of Education at UIC, or a Dr. Carol Lee, education professor at Northwestern.

No, he was going to do what he did – bring in someone whose policies and practices are in line with Rahm’s already-stated education aims – breaking the union, increasing charter schools, and using parents as a cover for both.

OK, so what do we do now that we have this “toxic” leader for a while?

We need to welcome Dr. Brizard and get real with him right away. Let’s hope he’s learned some lessons from Rochester. We certainly plan to.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.