New Chicago schools chief in “for the long haul”
Formally unveiled as the fourth Chicago Schools CEO in two years, Barbara Byrd-Bennett insisted Friday she’s in the job “for the long haul” and already has started preparing a 90-day plan on how to move the system to the next level.
Her first news conference with Mayor Rahm Emanuel came amid contentions from one Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman that her appointment was indicative of a revolving door of leadership and “chaos on Clark Street,” where her new office is located.
At least at the top, Byrd-Bennett indicated Friday, the revolving door will stop for a while.
“I’m here for the long haul,” said the New York native, 62.
“I don’t know what to do other than sign in blood. . . . I’m here. I’m not gonna say ‘I’m outta here.’ That’s not who I am.”
Byrd-Bennett began taking over the reins as CEO Friday from predecessor Jean-Claude Brizard, who resigned by “mutual agreement” after only 17 months on the job, CPS officials said.
She had been filling in as Chicago’s interim chief education officer for the past six months when Emanuel tapped her as his second CPS CEO. The mayor praised her wide breadth of experience as a teacher, principal, CEO and academic trouble shooter in New York City, Cleveland and Detroit.
Emanuel said Byrd-Bennett — whom he dubbed “B-3” — has already had so many successes in education that she could have easily passed on the job.
“She could have hung up her jersey,” Emanuel said. “Rather than stand on the sidelines and cheer . . . she got in the arena and put the jersey on.”
School Board President David Vitale said Byrd-Bennett “does not need” the job, but chose to take it “because her entire career has prepared her for this job.”
Byrd-Bennett will be paid the same $250,000 annual salary Brizard received. Brizard’s severance package includes a salary equal to 14 months of pay. Packing boxes filled his CEO office Friday.
The press conference announcing Byrd-Bennett’s hiring came in marked contrast to the one announcing Brizard’s arrival less than 18 months ago. Brizard read a statement and was not allowed to take questions from reporters, while Byrd-Bennett made it clear she is her own person and stepped up to answer several questions from the media.
Her most immediate firestorm is a list of school closings due Dec. 1 amid CPS plans to “downsize” its buildings to match a shrinking student population. Critics have charged that past decisions on school closings have been shrouded in secrecy and made with little community input.
However, Byrd-Bennett said that to make such decisions, “every piece of information we have” must be put on the table.
She said she has chuckled at news reports that put a specific figure on the number of schools that need to be closed.
“There is no plan, there is no number,” Byrd-Bennett said. “There’s a process.” And, she said, that process needs “community trust and respect.”
Concerning Brizard, who left a job as schools superintendent in Rochester, N.Y., to join Emanuel’s inaugural school leadership team, Emanuel said Brizard should “hold his head up” because he brought important change to the system during his 17-month tenure. However, Emanuel said, Byrd-Bennett was the “right person” to take the system “to the next level.”
Board President Vitale said that almost two weeks ago, Brizard came to him with concerns about “his ability to lead in an environment where people were constantly questioning whether he had the support of the mayor.” Ultimately, Brizard, Vitale and the mayor all agreed it was best for Brizard to move on, Vitale said.