By Kyle Olson
CHICAGO – Just weeks after the city’s first teachers union strike in 25 years, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard is joining the ranks of the unemployed.
He resigned Thursday after serving in the post about 17 months. He will be replaced by former Cleveland schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
Brizard earned – albeit unfairly – the dunce cap for his performance in Chicago, or lack thereof.
His brief tenure was marked with a lack of progress in reforming the very broken school district. Perhaps worse, he was largely absent and mute in the weeks prior to the strike, and during the strike itself.
Students and taxpayers need a strong advocate for their rights in charge of the school system, the same way Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis fights for the members of her organization. Brizard never filled that role very effectively.
He was in a difficult position from the beginning, taking the helm of a district with a 56 percent graduation rate, a $700 million budget deficit and a militant union looking to get its swagger back for the benefit of Big Labor nationally. On top of that, he served under a mayor that likes to command the stage. His reform record in Rochester, New York schools was strong, which earned him the job in Chicago.
But Chicago isn’t Rochester and he was unable to do anything meaningful on behalf of the Windy City’s children.
At times his true feelings came through. He was criticized in May for saying he believed public dollars should “follow” the student to the school of their choice, even private schools.
“It doesn’t make sense (that) our parents pay taxes and then pay tuition (for their children) to go to (private) school as well,” Brizard said.
The district later came out and said he didn’t support vouchers.
Brizard’s parting words seemed to indicate he instead was a creature of the educational bureaucracy. “I have to tell you it’s a little bit of melancholy and mixed emotions because I’ve come to love the people who work in CPS,” The Chicago Tribune quoted him as saying.
Chicago schools need a leader who is willing to be bold, but also has the space and flexibility to do so. It’s entirely possible no school leader can be successful in that city because the union and educational establishment are beyond reform and unmanageable.
Because of that, perhaps Brizard is better equipped to lead a district that is serious about reform and will not kowtow to a union’s threats and demands.