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What the members of Rahm Emanuel’s schools team bring to the table

Jean-Claude Brizard

Jean-Claude Brizard

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Updated: April 20, 2011 1:04AM

Charter schools. Turnaround schools. And knowing where the money is.

Those are common themes that run through the resumes many of the 16 people tapped by Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to lead the nation’s third-largest school system.

Buckle your seat belts. Dramatic changes are expected — and a union showdown could be looming — as the Emanuel education team takes the helm in the weeks to come. Emanuel will be sworn in as mayor on May 16.

The charter and turnaround schools touted by Emanuel have raised the ire of the Chicago Teachers Union. Both have put union teachers out on the streets, looking for new jobs.

Charters are a version of public schools that admit by lottery and enjoy many private-school-like freedoms, including the use of non-union teachers, bonus pay tied to performance and their own disciplinary codes. The “turnaround school” model has been used in Chicago to replace the adults in chronically failing schools while allowing students to remain undisturbed.

“Charters and turnarounds, that is who is represented on the board itself, as well as the two leaders at the top,’’ said Barbara Radner, director of DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education, of Emanuel’s picks.

“These are people who will not be impressed with standard practice. They are going to be looking for innovation, for change.’’

Emanuel also recruited people who understand education funding, and where the public and private money is. He also retained two current Chicago Public School staffers whose knowledge will be key as the system battles a $720 million deficit that could trigger layoffs — Diana Ferguson, CPS chief financial officer, and Alicia Winckler, who oversees human resources as CPS chief human capital officer.

For those unfamiliar with the system, here’s a readers’ guide to some of the top picks, and how they advance the Emanuel agenda:

Jean-Claude Brizard, Chief Executive Officer

As the superintendent of Rochester, N.Y., public schools, Brizard has been a vocal supporter of charters and teacher merit pay — two ideas Emanuel has touted. Brizard also worked for 21 years in the New York City public schools, the nation’s largest. His attempts to close down Rochester schools, among other things, led to a 95 percent no-confidence vote from the Rochester Teachers Association. As a former high school physics teacher, Brizard brings a knowledge of high schools — a key CPS weak link. Brizard’s tough decisions in the “hot seat’’ as superintendent and previous big-city-district experience were clear pluses, one Emanuel adviser said.

Noemi Donoso, Chief Education Officer

She fills out any in-the-trenches charter and turnaround experience that Brizard lacks. For the last year, Donoso has served as director of Denver’s Office of School Reform and Innovation, but previous to that, she was the chief academic officer for a California charter network, and served as a turnaround principal at one school each in Los Angeles and Harlem. She is a former high school teacher.

David Vitale, Board of Education President

Vitale understands the finances and operations of CPS as former chief administrative officer under former CEO Arne Duncan, now U.S. education secretary. His appointment is another nod to AUSL, as he serves as the chairman of its board. He is a supporter of Brizard, an ally of Mayor Daley, and a CPS parent.

Elizabeth Swanson, Mayoral Deputy Chief of Staff for Education

Swanson will serve as Emanuel’s liaison with CPS. She was budget director under former Schools CEO Arne Duncan. That expertise will help Emanuel ride herd over the difficult CPS budget days ahead. Swanson currently serves as executive director of The Pritzker-Traubert Family Foundation, providing her a working knowledge of the philanthropic community. A CPS parent.

Tim Cawley, Chief Operating Officer

A nod to the turnaround model, as Cawley currently serves as managing director for Finance and Administration at the Academy for Urban School Leadership, which has led the turnaround of a battery of CPS schools. Emanuel is a vocal supporter of AUSL. Cawley understands the kind of financial needs that turnarounds, and probably charters, have.

Jesse Ruiz, Board of Education Vice President

Ruiz’s current position as president of the State Board of Education means he understands how state and federal education money works, and whom to lobby at the state board of ed and among lawmakers to push through Emanuel reforms.

Penny Pritzker, board member

A member of the billionaire Pritzker family, Penny Pritzker is a huge charter supporter and a long-time education advocate. She was a contributor to Stand for Children, which led the writing of an Emanuel-backed school reform bill that trims teacher union power while giving CPS enhanced muscle to extend the school day and year. Her Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation contributes to the Academy for Urban School Leadership, the Young Wopmen’s Leadership Charter School and the Nobel Street Charter School network — all of which Emanuel wants to expand. Noble Street’s Pritzker College Prep is named after the Pritzker family. She also is chair of the Chicago Public Education Fund and led President Obama’s 2008 funding drive.

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