Some intital input from Brizard

June 18, 2011 at 7:53 am 17 comments

I found this article on the NYTimes site, via the Chicago News Cooperative about Brizard’s initial thoughts/plan as CEO of our beloved school system.  I have to say, I’m liking what he’s saying.  For such a huge, unwieldy system with a million challenges, he seems to have distilled things pretty quickly and pretty well.  At the very least, following a path towards some of his big goals seems like a step in the right direction.  I know he’s been criticized for being so Pro-Charter, but the fact that he’s readily recognized what is largely a 2-tier system in CPS (neighborhood versus lottery) is pretty refreshing.  I feel like it’s long been the unspoken, no?  Or ignored?  Not that he’s said how he’ll fix it (which is the million dollar question, given the lack of billion dollar funding.)

But for now, I like the idea of a focused leader with some inspiring big ideas taking the helm.


By John Konstantaras/Chicago News Cooperative

With three meetings already under his belt by 10 a.m. on the Monday of his second full week on the job, Jean-Claude Brizard, chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, rode in his city-issued Ford Crown Victoria to visit Northside College Prep High School.

From the passenger seat, Mr. Brizard took a deep breath and spoke with a reporter who was spending the day with him. “In some ways, the system reminds me of Frankenstein’s monster,” he said of the nation’s third-largest school district. “In the sense that there’s lots of great reform done, but not to completion.”

Mr. Brizard’s tightly scheduled day embodied his challenges and priorities. From meeting with business leaders to calling the families of the four students fatally shot since he took office, he was beginning to grapple with a system with complex needs and little recent stability.

For now, Mr. Brizard is focused on restructuring C.P.S.’s administration, developing better principals and cleaning up what he calls the “collateral damage” of past reforms. He would like to complete an unfinished teacher-evaluation system and bring order to a disjointed expansion of charter schoolsunder Renaissance 2010, a reform program started in 2006 that aimed to open 100 new schools in four years.

Some of the city’s best schools rose out of that movement, now led largely by a successor group, New Schools for Chicago. But many neighborhood schools were left behind, Mr. Brizard said.

“I think the New Schools work so far has been good, but what it’s done, from what I’ve seen so far, is it’s created two different school systems,” he said. “That’s what I meant by collateral damage.”

Mr. Brizard has spent most of his time since he started the job getting acquainted: visiting schools, meeting with top officials, giving news-media interviews and reaching out to parents. Before coming to Chicago, Mr. Brizard led the school district in Rochester, N.Y., where he earned a reputation as a superintendent who alienated union members but pleased the city’s corporate community.

Mr. Brizard’s Monday started at 6 a.m. with staff meetings at C.P.S. headquarters in the Loop. By 9 a.m. he visited a top floor of Chase Tower to meet privately with John W. Rowe, the chief executive of Exelon and chairman of New Schools for Chicago.

Afterward, Mr. Brizard said New Schools had grown frustrated with the poor organization of the bureaucracy of C.P.S.

“There’s a lot of amazing talent within the district but no coherent strategy,” Mr. Brizard said. “I think it lacks discipline.”

As the fourth top C.P.S. executive in four years, Mr. Brizard sees a need to bring stability to the top job. “We don’t want people to develop sort of a mind-set that ‘this too shall pass,’ ” Mr. Brizard said. “You want them to believe that this is going to be for the long haul.”

Mr. Brizard, 47, intends to make that point by laying down roots. He will rent a Lincoln Park apartment for now and plans to move in, along with his wife, Brooke, and their 18-month-old son, this weekend. He said he planned to buy a home in the city within a year.

“I’m a Midwesterner now,” Mr. Brizard said, though there are certain accommodations he may never make. He is determined never to refer to a soft drink as pop. He still craves New York-style pizza. But in deference to his new North Side location, he says he will back the Cubs.

Back at central office for a noon meeting, Mr. Brizard and top C.P.S. officials faced a video projector displaying a chat-room-like window on a screen across the conference-room table. A Webcam broadcast Mr. Brizard and his team to the other side of cyberspace, where hundreds of C.P.S. principals waited, with hundreds of questions regarding their new budgets.

While Rahm Emanuel campaigned for mayor, his education platform focused heavily on holding principals more accountable and providing them more autonomy in exchange for good performance.

“People talk about teacher effectiveness, but it really is about the principal,” said Mr. Brizard, a former principal. “If you have an amazing leader and if you give them the tools, they will recruit the best, they’ll sustain, retain and push out people who shouldn’t be in front of kids.”

As Mr. Brizard left the conference room, an ABC camera crew met him for an interview and by 2 p.m., he was in Bronzeville, talking with the editorial board of The Chicago Defender. Back to his desk by 3:30, Mr. Brizard made a round of phone calls to members of the City Council’s Hispanic caucus, inviting them to a meet-and-greet.

Though now he finds himself in front of cameras, he said he was more comfortable behind one: He once dreamed of becoming a photojournalist. He helped pay his way through college by photographing bar mitzvahs and weddings.

“I wanted someone to give me a nice camera and drop me in a war zone somewhere,” he said. Given the challenges at C.P.S., he may be getting half of what he wanted.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Budget time — where is the money coming from? Newsweek’s List of Top High Schools (Guest post by HSObsessed)

17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Grace  |  June 18, 2011 at 9:57 am

    As Alex of district 299 said, This kind of profile is called a “beat sweetener” by journalists, because it puts the individual in a favorable light and almost assures the reporter continued access in the future.

    We really have to hold our reporters to a higher standard, and have them ask tough questions of our public servants. The Chicago News Coop hasa been funded by some of the same hedge fund managers that fund Stand First, the PAC that pushed through SB&.

  • 2. cpsobsessed  |  June 18, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Ah, interesting POV!

    I guess I’m ok with a jounalist doing what’s needed to get their foot in the door to get the real scoop later.

    Or maybe I’m just a chump. 🙂

    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

  • 3. cps Mom  |  June 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    So far Brizard has been handling a difficult situation very diplomatically. We can all use a little sweetening right now. I like his overall approach and am optimistic that he is the right candidate to finally improve the system. I don’t see a leader that follows existing protocol here – exactly what we need.

  • 4. Sped Involved  |  June 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    In all this coverage of Brizard and his approach in CPS so far, I have not seen one iota of information about his interest in dealing with special education in CPS. I would have expected local ed journalists to probe about it. Least of our brethren and all. Maybe I’m missing it. Have any of you seen any? If so, please point me toward it. Thanks!

  • 5. HSObsessed  |  June 18, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    I like that he has a record of bringing a fresh approach, and is not afraid to be the unpopular guy. I’m also happy to read that he’s planning to stay for the long run. It’s true that we’ve had too much turnover lately and there needs to be some continuity in the vision that is expressed, and the plan needed to achieve it. Also, I find Haitian accents very charming.

  • 6. CPSDepressed (was copyeditor)  |  June 19, 2011 at 9:48 am

    I talked to a friend in Rockford last weekend; they’ve had something like eight superintendents in 10 years. That’s bad. Everyone’s so busy fighting that the students are completely screwed.

    I haven’t liked everything I’ve heard about Brizard, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. Let;s see what happens, you know?

  • 7. Grace  |  June 20, 2011 at 5:51 am

    If pat is prologue, you’d want to read some of Rachel Barnhart reporting on his time in Rochester.

  • 8. Grace  |  June 20, 2011 at 6:41 am

    Meant to type … If past is prologue …

  • 9. Grace  |  June 20, 2011 at 7:20 am

    Speaking of continuity, CPS has had 8 long and busy years in which CEO Arne Duncan pushed “corporate-style eduction reform” — charters, turnarounds and contract schools. This is the same stuff he packed into the Dept. of Ed program, Race to the Top, (a.k.a. “NCLB on steroids,” says Diane Ravitch).

    Rahm, Brizzard and the new Board of Ed continue this agenda. (Huberman had tried his best to continue Duncan’s program, but he lacked a background in education, he didn’t know where the minefields lay, and Mayor Daley wasn’t the same kind of strategic manager that Rahm is.)

    Brizzard, on the other hand has been very well-managed by Rahm and his team. Look at how hard they have pushed their pr effort to re-make him after his time in Rochester, where an amazing 95% of teachers there voted “no confidence” in his programs. The Trib did a puff piece early on, the Chicago News Coop basically reprised it and got it placed in the NY Times.

    Good handlers help a lot. It was generally reported that Brizzard and Rahm didn’t know how the BofE would decide the contracted 4% teacher raise. This unlikely pretense was designed to let the public believe a myth — that the Board of Ed does some independent thinking on schools. The pretense has also served to avoid having Brizzard take the brunt of the teachers’ disappointment — since it was nominally a Board decision.

  • 10. Hopeful  |  June 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    I give credit to Brizzard for recognizing that one of the chief impediments to change in this amazingly dug in system is the notion on the part of central office staff that “this too shall pass.” And frankly–they have every reason to think so. The best thing that could happen in my opinion is to get someone in the leadership role who is in for the long haul. Superintendents (and so far Brizzard is true to form with the job switch that brings him to Chicago) are nomads chasing the next big contract and staying one step ahead of any meaningful review of performance results and graduation rates during their term.

  • 11. Mayfair Dad  |  June 20, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    @ 10 – Arne Duncan being the notable exception.

    Yes it is a fluff piece but telling nuggets of information nestled between the layers of sugar frosting:

    – “created two different school systems”
    – “no coherent strategy…it lacks discipline”
    – “People talk about teacher effectiveness, but it really is about the principal.”

    It will be interesting to see how these observations play out, or if these are the sound bytes du jour. I like what I am hearing so far but words need to be followed by action.

  • 12. Lawndale  |  June 20, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Does anyone have information about this charter high school? Is it any good?

    Henry Ford Academy: Power House High

  • 13. Reader  |  June 20, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    @Grace – For the life of me, I will never understand the education reporters in this city. Yet, they give each other awards for their product.

  • 14. Reader  |  June 20, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    And now for a POV that’s completely different, Substance reviews the new BOE:

  • 15. CPSDepressed (was copyeditor)  |  June 21, 2011 at 7:45 am

    I don’t know much about the Henry Ford Academy here. The first one is in Dearborn, MI and is run out of the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. I think the organization that runs those museums runs the charters. I don’t know much else.

  • 16. Hawthorne mom  |  June 22, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    The BOE is giving Brizard 31K in MOVING EXPENSES!!!! WTH????? I had to pay for my own pencils and toilet paper and he gets 31K in moving expenses????? How much stuff could he possibly have to move? Why can’t he pay for that himself? Don’t tell me we are in a recession and we can’t give teachers raises and then give the guy who will likely be leaving us in 2-4 years, no matter what the nice news story says, more for moving expenses than we pay our teacher’s assistants over one entire year. If anyone could actually hear all the curse words I am saying in my head you’d think I was coming straight out of an episode of the Sopranos. Don’t tell me the BOE gives a damn about kids and then gives away money for what could be a TA for a primary classroom or a sped kid who needs it. Don’t tell me this is standard for CEO’s. Maybe in private sector or some other fantasy world, but this is CPS baby. Drive your own car, pay for your own supplies and load your own moving van with your own money.
    I need a drink.

  • 17. Patty of Beverly  |  July 3, 2011 at 6:29 am

    @Hawthorne, I completely feel your pain. I don’t understand how CPS could give 31k to a new CPS employee for moving expenses and I know he will not be with us for long. I wonder though, if he doesn’t uses all of the money, does he have to return the remainder or is it his to keep? With CPS, you never will know the truth. I guess it depends on the type of sign-on agreement they made with him

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