Bye, Brizard: Chicago Schools Bid Farewell to Another CEO

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — October 12, 2012 2 min read
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Jean-Claude Brizard is no longer the CEO of Chicago’s public school district. Seventeen months into the former Rochester superintendent’s tenure, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Brizard will be replaced by Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who has served as the district’s chief education officer since last April.

The Chicago Sun-Times broke the news last night (my Twitter feed was a mash-up of Brizard-related exclamations and analyses of the VP debate). Brizard, who was hand-picked by the mayor, expressed sadness at his departure. But the party line from Emanuel and Brizard was that they jointly agreed that it was best for the district to have a fresh start. The mayor’s team said that Brizard’s departure was not an embarrassment or a sign of failure, and that bringing Brizard to the district was not a mistake. Brizard can claim to have presided over the district’s first year with an extended school day and over a decline in drop-out rates. Here’s Brizard’s full statement to the press from CBS, released late last night.

Emanuel said the ouster was partly due to the fact that both he and Brizard felt that speculation about a potential departure was becoming a “distraction” from the district’s core mission. The CEO’s position has seemed tenuous at least since this summer, when the Chicago Tribune reported that Brizard, and especially his management style, had received shaky reviews. We considered the possibility on the second day of the strike on this blog. By the middle of the strike, Brizard had to squelch rumors that he’d been laid off in an email to the district.

We wondered last month whether Emanuel would replace Brizard with someone who was more collaborative. Barbara Byrd-Bennett, like Brizard, spent time in the New York City public schools, and spent seven years as the CEO in Cleveland as that district transitioned to mayoral control. Here’s Catalyst Chicago’s reporting on Byrd-Bennett’s arrival in Chicago earlier this year. Byrd-Bennett was closely involved in negotiations during the recent teachers’ strike in Chicago, and apparently had a reputation in Cleveland for working well with the union there. However, the CTU’s representatives last night said that the transition of power was yet another sign of “chaos” at the top of the 404,000-student district, the AP reported.

The Sun-Times reported that Brizard would likely receive his $250,000-a-year salary this year—but also that Byrd-Bennett will likely not fill her own former position, marking a return to a management structure not seen in the district since Mayor Richard Daley’s state-mandated takeover of the district in 1995. We’ll see how that pans out in the next few weeks.

It will also be interesting to see where Brizard ends up next. Will his departure be taken as a second vote of no confidence—or will the Broad Academy-trained educator find himself in a new district eager for a reformer?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.