Chicago Teachers’ Strike: What About CEO Brizard?

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — September 11, 2012 2 min read
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As readers of this blog surely know, today is the second day of a teacher strike in Chicago that’s being closely watched around the country. My colleague Stephen Sawchuk is covering the strike from Chicago, so District Dossier followers should check out Teacher Beat to keep up-to-date.

The strike has implications for districts and educators in and out of Chicago. But it also has implications for Chicago Public Schools’ CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. The Chicago Tribune reported that Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who appointed Brizard last year and who has been very much in the public eye this week, may be less than pleased with the CEO’s management style. Though the mayor has not confirmed these reports, Brizard’s first performance review ranked his management as “inconsistent” (though the evaluation, signed by the Chicago Board of Education’s president David Vitale, also commended him for a “challenging, but solid year"—see the Tribune story for more detail). Brizard’s lack of clarity on how to implement the longer school day—which was one of Emanuel’s campaign promises—led to frustration for some principals, and there was an unusual amount of turnover in the city’s education cabinet this past year. Emanuel was also apparently not pleased when the superintendent took a two-week vacation this July, at a time when union-district tensions were already beginning to boil over.

Would different leadership have handled contract negotiations with the union differently—and perhaps led to a different outcome? It’s hard to say. Brizard has a history of struggles with unions: He left Rochester, N.Y. after a vote of no confidence from the union there. Here’s a Q&A from last fall in which he talked with one of Edweek’s opinion bloggers about how he intended to approach working with the union in Chicago. Of course, Brizard was certainly not stepping into an easy role, and the district did see some growth in both the graduation rate and student test scores last year. But these whispers, that performance review, and now this strike may not bode well for his future in Chicago. It’s premature now, but we’ll keep our ears open for looming discussions about Brizard’s future in the district. Would Mayor Emanuel look to bring in someone who’s focused more on collaboration, or will he stick to his “reform"-oriented guns?

Though the personalities and history in Chicago helped create a particularly explosive situation, this is clearly not just about Brizard—union-school board-district collaboration issues are hot in districts around the country. Should teachers who’ve been laid off from schools have a claim to openings in other schools, or should principals have complete autonomy? Should teacher pay be linked to student test scores? (This came up earlier this summer, when Chicago withdrew from the 2010 Teacher Incentive Fund grant and was the only one of the three withdrawing districts that was unable to reach any agreement with its union to develop new compensation schemes.) Do policymakers respect teachers? Do these questions sound familiar?

So keep your eye on Teacher Beat and on this blog to see how it all develops and what it means. For more background, here’s the Teacher Beat overview of the scene yesterday, and updates from day one and day two of the strike.

And, for a slightly different focus, over on PoliticsK-12, Alyson Klein wonders about the implications of the strike for the presidential campaign.

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