Chicago schools CEO replaced after 17 months

(AP) Chicago schools CEO replaced after 17 months
Associated Press
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's efforts to improve Chicago's schools face yet more upheaval after his hand-picked CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard, resigned Thursday just three weeks after the end of the city's first teachers strike in a quarter century.

Emanuel has called a news conference for Friday morning to introduce Brizard's replacement. She is Barbara Byrd-Bennett, a former teacher and administrator from Cleveland who had been filling in as Chicago's interim chief education officer and played a far more visible role than did Brizard in the teacher contract negotiations.

Both Emanuel and Brizard, who had only been on the job 17 months, said the decision was mutual and arose after questions about Brizard's management became a distraction to Emanuel's ambitious school reform goals. Emanuel said the decision was made during "two to three separate conversations" in recent days.

Emanuel's spokeswoman, Sarah Hamilton, said the loss of Brizard wasn't a setback for the mayor and predicted a "seamless" transition under Byrd-Bennett. She said choosing Brizard wasn't a mistake, noting he helped implement a longer school day in the district and other reforms.

"We're going to continue with our mission," Hamilton said.

But Stephanie Gadlin, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Teachers Union, described Brizard's departure as "shocking."

"The children deserve stability at the top. This is more chaos," Gadlin said. "Either the mayor is going to be the CEO or he has to put educators in charge of the school district."

Talk of Brizard's possible departure had been circulating for several weeks. But as recently as Sept. 19, shortly after the strike ended, Emanuel said: "J.C. has my confidence." A spokeswoman for Emanuel said the mayor did not blame Brizard for the contentious contract negotiations that led to the strike.

"We had a mutual agreement (that the distraction was) not helpful. I didn't have to come to that conclusion myself," Emanuel said. "We both agreed together. It kept on becoming about the static and noise about J.C."

Brizard, who previously held a similar position in the Rochester, N.Y., public schools, said he went to Emanuel and the school board after hearing rumors the mayor wasn't happy. Hamilton said Brizard told Emanuel he didn't want to be a distraction from the mission of serving the children.

"I have to tell you it's a little bit of melancholy and mixed emotions because I've come to love the people who work in CPS," Brizard told the Chicago Tribune. "I love to work with kids. ... That's more important to me than keeping a job. This is stressful, but at the same time it's about the city."

Teachers walked off the job Sept. 10, idling 350,000 students in the nation's third-largest school district for seven days before the union's delegates agreed to suspend the strike and return to classes. They later approved a new contract, which includes 3 percent raises in its first year and 2 percent for two years after that, along with increases for experienced teachers. There also is an option of another 3 percent raise if teachers agree to a fourth year of the contract.

The school district also agreed to reduce the percentage of teachers' evaluations based on test scores, down from a proposed 45 percent to the 30 percent set as the minimum by state law. It also includes an appeals process to contest evaluations.

Brizard, a native of Haiti who worked for more than two decades in New York City schools before taking the helm in Rochester in 2008, was introduced April 18, 2011, as Emanuel's choice as Chicago schools CEO, which have more than 400,000 students. More than 50,000 of the students attend charter schools.

Brizard replaced interim schools chief Terry Mazany, who then-Mayor Richard M. Daley named to the post. Mazany took over after the previous schools chief, Ron Huberman, resigned from the $230,000-a-year job.

While Brizard got high marks on his education expertise and understanding policy, he has been criticized for his management style, including the way he communicates and decisiveness.

According to published reports, his annual evaluation gave him low marks for the way he communicates and runs the district. However, school board President David Vitale commended Brizard for his work during the year.


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