Jean-Claude Brizard kicked off his first day as CEO of Chicago Public Schools with a return to the classroom.
He stepped into Guggenheim Elementary School in Englewood and Juarez High School in Pilsen on Thursday to talk to teachers, principals, parents and students as part of a listening tour that will take him to schools across the city four days a week until the end of the school year. He's hoping the effort will help him quickly become familiar with the challenges facing the nation's third-largest school district.
On his first visit Thursday morning, he was joined by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and observed everything from the controversial "breakfast in the classroom" program in action to a science class in need of a better-equipped lab.
He also took time to listen to a parent worried about bullies attacking her daughter. Brizard, who was jumped as a teenager at a Brooklyn high school because of his Haitian accent, told the mom to contact him, scribbling down his email address for her.
Guggenheim, considered a failing school, barely fought off a forced closing last year and has been trying to rebound since then. It hired a new principal who has been focused on increasing standards for what students in every grade should learn in math and language arts. But the K-8 school sits in the heart of one of Chicago's most violent communities, and classroom windows are covered by bars.
Principal Vikki Stokes said she asked Brizard for more technology -- he promised smartboards -- and the new academic standards for science that have yet to be released by the Common Core State Standards initiative. Illinois schools will be tested on those standards beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, and Stokes was anxious to get her hands on the benchmarks. Brizard promised to email them to her.
"That's exciting because I'll be the first to have them," she said, adding that Brizard asked all the right questions in terms of what's working and not working with the curriculum and her expectations of teachers.
Stokes is part of the New Leaders for New Schools program, which Emanuel said Thursday will be doing more principal training for CPS. She told Brizard raising academic expectations for students has led three teachers to leave this year, and more are expected to leave in the coming year. One of the district's first steps along with closing the $720 million budget gap is to develop a teacher evaluation system, which will help the district identify ineffective teachers.
A visit to a science class led Brizard to scurry behind the teacher when a student brought forth a gecko.
"I took physical science to stay away from that," the former physics teacher joked as he eyed the lizard.
He was impressed, though, by teacher Kimberly Walls' efforts to bring hands-on learning to her sixth- through eighth-graders, including engaging students in composting and introducing students to a Field Museum exhibit with a quick virtual tour. He offered to come back and teach the science class one day.
"To see the teacher prep students on what they will be seeing and what questions they'll be asking was terrific," Brizard said.
Brizard was approved as CEO by the school board Wednesday after a week of volunteering his time to transitional efforts. It was the first time since beginning work that he went to a school, leading him to remark that it had been his best day since moving to the email@example.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun