Rumors had been churning for weeks but last Friday the official word came: With fewer than two years on the job, Jean-Claude Brizard is out as head of Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Board of Education President David Vitale announced Friday that another New Yorker, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, is stepping in to head the city’s public schools. Emanuel offered glowing remarks for Brizard and said his departure had nothing to do with his performance but came because Brizard himself, felt his presence was becoming a “distraction.”
Emanuel brought Brizard to Chicago from the Rochester, N.Y. school district even though Brizard had received a no-confidence vote from the teachers union there.
The mayor said he and Brizard “agreed that this is a time for new leadership to take us to the next level of achieving what we need to achieve for our children.”
Vitale addressed reporters first at Friday’s press conference where Byrd-Bennett’s appointment was announced.
“Barbara does not need this job. Barbara did not come to Chicago looking for this job. Barbara did not expect this job to be available,” said Vitale. “Barbara is taking this job because her entire career prepared her for this job.”
The hunt for new leadership was short and hyper-local with the mayor tapping Byrd-Bennett, a CPS chief education officer who’d been on that job for only six months.
Byrd-Bennett has been in education for 40 years – as an education leader in 12 years as a teacher and has headed school districts in Cleveland, Brooklyn, N.Y., and New York City (for a small district of low-performing schools) where she worked before coming to Chicago. She arrived in Chicago in April 2012 first as a chief education advisor before becoming the chief education officer and now CEO.
“As Barbara takes charge as CEO of the Chicago public school system, I know she has the experience to build on the reforms we put in place with this contract. I know she has the capacity to work with all the important stakeholders in the system, including our many dedicated teachers and principals and our parents. I know she has a vision to turn our challenges into opportunities,” said Emanuel.
She takes the helm of the Chicago school district weeks after its first teachers strike in 25 years.
“As CEO of the Chicago Public Schools my focus everyday will be on our children, nothing more,” said Byrd-Bennett. “Nothing, absolutely nothing is more important than our children and their academic growth.”
She said one of her first phone calls after being tapped for the new position was to Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
“We share the same vision for the outcome of our children,” said Byrd-Bennett, calling her conversation with Lewis “very, very productive.”
Lewis expressed concern about the turnover within the CPS administration. As she announced in September that teachers would strike, Lewis said CPS has had a “revolving door” of main office workers. She renewed those comments last week with Brizard’s departure, which was effective Oct. 10.
The Mayor was short on specifics Friday as to why Brizard called it quits. However he or did say that job tenure was an issue for Brizard. Still, Emanuel repeatedly praised Brizard for a list of jobs well done – making it further puzzling why he left.
“I said to JC, ‘you have a lot to be proud of over the last 17 months for your accomplishments and you should hold your head up high for the record of not only issuing those reforms but starting to see the results that matter for children,’” said Emanuel. He also told the outgoing CEO that he would continue to support him.
But for all the mayor’s pats on the back, Brizard’s presence had been lacking at the bargaining table during the seven-day teachers strike. Though he issued written statements through his office during the strike, Brizard took a vacation with family during that time.
Emanuel took up for Brizard Friday and rejected the idea that the vacation was ill-timed or had anything to do with Brizard’s resignation.
Emanuel and Vitale have high hopes for the woman they affectionately call “B3.” She pledged that she was in the nation’s third largest school district, which serves over 400,000 students in nearly 700 schools, for the long-haul and would fight the good fight for the city’s public school students. Her appointment is effective immediately, though she still has to be officially approved by the school board later this month.
“I’m here. I don’t intend to go anywhere,” she said.
That was the same thing Brizard said 17 months ago as he started the same job.
By Rhonda Gillespie