Chicago Public Schools’ new chief executive appointee Jean-Claude Brizard, holding a lengthy press conference today at his former school district in Rochester, N.Y., called himself a “reformer” whose three years heading the district saw important accomplishments.
While not directly laying out his plans for Chicago’s schools, Brizard said he supports teacher unions and has collaborated with them over his long career. He also talked about public education as a “civil rights issue” and called schools “the foundation of success for a city.”
“I am a reformer. I make no excuses,” Brizard told reporters. “There is no denying we have seen change in Rochester. I want to celebrate these successes because ours is a fight to save this generation.”
Brizard, 47, is seen by some as a controversial choice to lead Chicago Public Schools. His three years as superintendent in Rochester has been marked by some incremental improvements in test scores and graduation numbers but also frequent battles with the teachers union over discipline policies and performance evaluations for teachers.
In February, a month after Brizard signed a new three-year contract that pays him $235,000 a year, the Rochester Teachers Association gave a no-confidence vote in the superintendent's ability to lead.
Today, Brizard said his work in Rochester had become difficult in recent months because he had become “a lightning rod” for controversy. He said he felt guilty about leaving the district before many of his plans could be completed, but said the team he put in place there could see them through without him.
Asked whether he thought he was “bailing out” on the Rochester district, Brizard said: “It’s not about bailing whatsoever. If it was, I wouldn’t be looking for a more difficult assignment.
“If I was looking for an easier assignment, I certainly wouldn’t be going to a larger city in the country,” he said.
Brizard said he didn’t seek out the job in Chicago, but that when it came to him he realized it was “an amazing opportunity for my family.” He bristled at the notion that he skips around from job to job to increase his pay and profile.
“I’m not a serial superintendent, I really am not,” he said.
Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel said he hopes Brizard’s selection brings stability to a school district that has seen three CEOs in three years and where close to 80 percent of schools are failing to meet federal standards. Brizard, along with the newly formed city Board of Education, which was also announced on Monday, are tasked with improving student performance, grappling with an estimated $720-million school budget shortfall and overseeing what is expected to be a contentious contract negotiation with the Chicago Teachers Union.
Brizard said he understands the challenges that await him in Chicago. With more than 20 years experience in education in New York City, Brizard said he is used to large organizations. He knows, he said, “how you move a battleship.”