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Rahm Emanuel names Jean-Claude Brizard new Chicago school CEO

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel on Monday named Jean-Claude Brizard, the superintendent of Rochester, N.Y., schools, to head the most sweeping overhaul of Chicago Public School management in 16 years.

Brizard was tapped for Schools CEO of the nation’s third-largest school system, to be supported by 15 other Emanuel appointees announced Monday. They include an all-new school board that will be headed by David Vitale, an ally of Mayor Daley who served as chief administrative officer under then-Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan.

Other school board heavyweights include Jesse Ruiz, the current chair of the the Illinois State Board of Education, who will serve as vice-president; education advocate Penny Pritzker, a member of the billionaire Pritzker family; and former Northwestern University President Henry Bienen.

Duncan, now U.S. Secretary of Education, weighed in from Washington on the picks, hailing Emanuel in a news release for “choosing a diverse and outstanding team.’’

The shakeup creates the kind of sweeping change that has not been seen since Mayor Daley won control of the city’s schools in 1995. Plus, it could come with enhanced muscle if lawmakers pass a bill that would rein in the teachers union’s ability to strike and beef up the school system’s power to extend the school day and year and dismiss teachers.

“It’s been [16] years since we’ve seen this level of overhaul,’’ said Timothy Knowles, a member of Emanuel’s transition team and director of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago. “This is as formidable a lineup as you could find anywhere, at any big-urban district in the country.’’

Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union and parent groups quickly expressed skepticism. CTU President Karen Lewis pointed to the 95 percent no-confidence vote the Rochester teachers union gave Brizard only two months ago and said Emanuel’s choices seemed “focused on failed quick fix public relations and privatizing schools.’’

Chicago’s Parents United for Responsible Education pointed to data indicating the four-year Rochester graduation rate dropped at one point during Brizard’s Rochester tenure. “So why are we bringing him here?” asked PURE’s Julie Woestehoff.

Emanuel introduced Brizard as his pick at a news conference at Kelly High School on the Southwest Side.

Brizard has headed the 32,000-student Rochester City School District since 2008. He signed a three-year contract there in February paying $235,000 a year.

Previously, he worked in the New York City school system for 21 years, starting as a junior high science teacher and high school physics teacher and leaving as regional superintendent. At one point during Duncan’s tenure as Schools CEO, Emanuel said, Vitale tried to recruit him to run CPS high schools.

Brizard, 47, is an “experienced educator and proven manager,” Emanuel said, adding that he chose him from six or seven candidates he interviewed for the post. He said that Brizard, who is the son of Haitian immigrants, impressed him most, telling him during his interview, “it will take a generation to save a generation.”

Emanuel said he didn’t end up having to pick between an educator and a manager, calling that “a false choice” because Brizard has shown himself to be both an excellent teacher “and a proven manager.”

He noted that, under Brizard, Rochester’s most recent graduation rate increased and student scores in English / language arts and math improved.

Brizard spoke only briefly, and Emanuel would not let him take questions.

Brizard said he is “honored and thrilled” to be Emanuel’s choice. He also said that students must be put first and that “there is no greater calling” than education.

Emanuel said Brizard is expected to start work on the same day that Emanuel is sworn in as mayor — May 16.

Brizard’s pay would be determined by the Chicago Board of Education, which still must formally approve his appointment, Emanuel said.

Brizard will replace Ron Huberman, who resigned last November. Since then, Terry Mazany has served as interim schools chief.

The son of a teacher and a principal, Brizard also holds a commercial pilot’s license.

Some in Rochester were more than ready to wave goodbye.

Howard Eagle, a member of Rochester’s Community Education Taskforce, called Brizard’s management style “dictatorial” and “very top down.”

“We wouldn’t wish him on anyone,’’ Eagle said. “We’re glad to see him go.’’

Adam Urbanski, head of the Rochester Teachers Association, said he questions the veracity of an $80 million Rochester public school deficit Brizard announced about a month ago, along with plans to lay off 770 teachers — about 20 percent of the workforce.

And, Urbanski said, Brizard tried to jam through school closings without community hearings — something school board members later ordered him to provide. Brizard later became the subject of the union’s first no-confidence vote in at least 30 years, Urbanski said.

“We had a difficult three years because Jean Claude Brizard’s definition of shared decision making was to make a decision and then share it with others,’’ Urbanski said.

However, Barbara Radner, head of DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education, noted that Brizard brings a working knowledge of high schools at the top of the CPS management team.

As a former high school physics teacher, Radner noted, Brizard “would have a first-hand knowledge of what high school students need — and that is such a CPS priority.’’



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