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Education Tue Apr 19 2011

Chicago's New Schools CEO: Courageous in Pursuit of What's Best for His Students

Yesterday Mayor-Elect Emanuel named his choice to lead the Chicago Public Schools as CEO. The CEO position was created by Mayor Daley along with his moves to put the Board of Education firmly under his control (the so-called "Amendatory Act" of 1995). The CEO to a large degree manages the Board as much as the Board manages him; this is common in institutions with C-level offices. In Chicago, the CEO's operational relationship with the Mayor as his agent to effectuate policy makes this even more the case.

Emanuel has chosen Jean-Claude Brizard, who headed up Rochester's schools from 2008 to present, and before that worked as an area executive in New York City's school system. He leaves Rochester not as a conquering hero, but as a controversial figure whom teachers and parents accused of an autocratic style of leadership in pursuit of an idealized vision including privatization and weakening teachers' bargaining power. The Emanuel campaign released some media-friendly quotes from various people lauding Brizard. The thought leaders quoted in Emanuel's release include Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education; Robert Duffy, New York's Lieutenant Governor; Seventeenth Ward alderman Latasha Thomas; the President of the University of Rochester; the executive director of the association of Superintendents in New York; a deputy Mayor of New York City; and the head of the Young Women's Leadership Network. The accolades variously credited Brizard's "command of the issues" and courage and leadership.

Here's a representative quote:

Jean-Claude Brizard performed yeoman service in New York City as deputy to Joel Klein and here in Rochester as superintendent. He is incredibly smart, has a very impressive command of the pivotal issues in K-12 education today, and is quite sophisticated in addressing the intricate politics of a complex public school system. He also is indefatigable and determined to achieve the best for his students. I will miss him greatly in Rochester. I wish him the very best in Chicago.

A reporter for Rochester's ABC affiliate has helpfully gathered the high-profile stories about Brizard. The collected articles don't conflict with the Emanuel team's intended sense of the man, insofar as they reveal someone who is willing to pick fights and act courageously and with determination to achieve his vision of what is "best for his students."

For example, Brizard defied his Board's regulations on hiring, creating high-level positions without consent of his Board, while also dissembling about his actions in giving raises to his staff. In the wake of a testing scandal in D.C. that undermines the type of "reform" championed by the Mayor-Elect, it is comforting to know that Brizard has been caught spinning stats to support what he feels is "best for his students."

Perhaps Brizard most shined in his attack on waste, such as slashing physical education, arts, and music, while attracting the most talented people to his bureaucracy by raising their salaries and putting them up at lavish resorts. Brizard took on the millionaire teachers who daily drive their personal underground monorails to school, pursuing layoffs and cuts while raising spending on his cabinet to record levels, including a six-figure part-time personal assistant .

This is a strong message by the Mayor-Elect that he wants to depart from the era of Ron Huberman, insofar as Ron Huberman did exactly the same things.

Also unlike--or "unlike"--Huberman, Brizard's stick-to-it-iveness cannot be questioned--that is, unless you're a member of Rochester's school board, and you met last night in executive session to determine whether you have a course of legal action against Brizard for leaving despite a mutual-assent clause in his contract. To be fair, he did inform one lowly board member--the President--with a text message. Yesterday morning.

Here's Brizard six months ago (article no longer on-line):

However, Brizard said he still has work to do here.

"It is very important that (district staff) not get the impression that I'm fly-by-night and don't have a commitment to the city," he said. "We've flipped this place upside down and I plan to stay and see it through."

Apparently, Brizard's dedication to seeing it through after "flipping" Rochester's school's "upside down" could be shaken. Not solely by ambition, though; speaking to Mayor-Elect Emanuel's claim that Brizard is willing to make "tough decisions," it was also the difficulty of compromising and working with his Board:

"It's much more than one thing," Brizard said in a phone interview from Chicago. "First of all, this is an amazing opportunity."

"The dynamic of the board, it would be dishonest to say it did not play a role. Every decision was a heavy lift. The in-fighting was distracting for everyone."

Democratic decision-making can be so inconvenient.

But as we all know, what Brizard thought was "best for his students" (for example, sticking around after turning their school system upside down) is not nearly as important as how he pursued that vision, regardless of having almost no support from teachers, little confidence from his own staff, and stout opposition from an organized parents group, all groups we would agree that are merely incidental to the education process--certainly not as important as high-profile reformers who are overwhelmingly private school grads.

Anyone can nitpick, but the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and in Rochester, the school system is enjoying a large deficit and a wildly impressive rate of five percent of graduates deemed prepared for college, which helped Rochester's schools achieve the distinction of being the worst in New York in this regard.

But remember: Brizard is a graduate of the Broad Academy of Superintendents. From their About page:

The Broad Superintendents Academy was started in 2002 by entrepreneur and philanthropist Eli Broad* to transform urban school districts into effective public enterprises. The Academy is a program of The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems.

The Academy identifies and prepares prominent leaders--executives who have experience successfully leading large organizations and a passion for public service--then places them in urban school districts to dramatically improve the quality of education for America's students.

The Academy is run like an executive training program. Participants attend extended weekend sessions over the course of 10 months, while continuing to work in their current jobs.

Those who would skeptically focus on reports of Brizard's actions in office, and the result of his policies in fostering community support and producing positive results for students are forgetting something critical: the people who run the Broad Superintendent's Academy like him.


*Eli Broad contributed $25,000 to Rahm Emanuel's mayoral campaign.

 

Adams / April 19, 2011 12:52 PM

Hey Ramsin,

Thanks for the * info. It's important to note, and I wish others would cover the money aspect. I really enjoyed your Rahm versus The Man story, it had me rolling for days.

Erica

LemonMeister, Los Angeles, CA / April 25, 2011 10:40 PM

60 minutes? KB Home aka Kaufman and Broad (Eli Broad) Board members include all of the Big 3 media? CBS Leslie Moonves President (60Mins), sorry where's the story on 60 minutes about Bruce Karatz xCEO of KB Home who is a convicted Felon for stealing $11 million in a stock swindle working for Eli Broad while being paid $232 Million and the cause of the housing bust? Keep stroking us CBS and Eli Broad your a GOD! http://www.akbhomesucks.com check out Eli Broad's handiwork in his famous building Company. My air conditioner in my Energy efficient KB Home has now blown up for the 5th straight year. The division president Don Barrineau and the Board of Directors including Leslie Moonves has ignored serious mold and construction defects for 3 years that is a violation of the KB Home FTC Consent order for shoddy construction and false advertising! 60 minutes you missed these glaring facts/Leslie must have told you to squash the real story of ELI BROAD?

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