CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard stepped down Thursday after a little more than a year in the post and just three weeks after the school district endured its first strike by teachers in 25 years.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who named Brizard to the post 17 months ago, said the resignation was a mutual decision that arose after questions about Brizard’s management became a distraction to efforts to improve the schools. Emanuel said the decision was made during “two to three separate conversations” in recent days.
Brizard previously held a similar position in the Rochester, N.Y., public schools. He is being replaced with Barbara Byrd-Bennett, a former teacher, principal and Cleveland schools CEO who has been filling in as Chicago’s interim chief education officer.
Talk of Brizard’s possible departure had been circulating for several weeks. But as recently as Sept. 19, shortly after the strike ended, Emanuel said: “J.C. has my confidence.” A spokeswoman for Emanuel said the mayor did not blame Brizard for the contentious contract negotiations that led to the strike.
“We had a mutual agreement (that the distraction was) not helpful. I didn’t have to come to that conclusion myself,” Emanuel said. “We both agreed together. It kept on becoming about the static and noise about J.C.”
Brizard said he went to Emanuel and the school board after hearing rumors the mayor wasn’t happy. Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said Brizard told Emanuel the job was more important than him and he didn’t want to be a distraction from the mission of serving the children.
“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,’” Brizard told the Chicago Tribune. “I love to work with kids. … That’s more important to me than keeping a job. This is stressful, but at the same time it’s about the city.”
Stephanie Gadlin of the Chicago Teachers Union called Brizard’s departure “shocking, crazy news.”
“The children deserve stability at the top. This is more chaos,” Gadlin said. “Either the mayor is going to be the CEO or he has to put educators in charge of the school district.”
Teachers walked off the job Sept. 10, idling 350,000 students in the nation’s third-largest school district for seven days before the union’s delegates agreed to suspend the strike and return to classes. They later approved a new contract, which includes 3 percent raises in its first year and 2 percent for two years after that, along with increases for experienced teachers. There also is an option of another 3 percent raise if teachers agree to a fourth year of the contract.
The school district also agreed to reduce the percentage of teachers’ evaluations based on test scores, down from a proposed 45 percent to the 30 percent set as the minimum by state law. It also includes an appeals process to contest evaluations.
Brizard played no obvious role in the contract negotiations, but Byrd-Bennett did.
Hamilton said the Brizard’s stepping down wasn’t a setback for the mayor. She said the schools will have a “seamless” transition under his replacement. She said choosing Brizard wasn’t a mistake, noting he helped implement a longer school day in the district and other reforms.
“If you look at all that he’s accomplished during his tenure, it’s really quite remarkable,” Hamilton said. “We’re going to continue with our mission.”
Brizard, a native of Haiti who worked for more than two decades in New York City schools before taking the helm in Rochester in 2008, was introduced April 18, 2011, as Emanuel’s choice as Chicago schools CEO, which have more than 400,000 students. More than 50,000 of the students attend charter schools.
Brizard replaced interim schools chief Terry Mazany, who then-Mayor Richard M. Daley named to the post. Mazany took over after the previous schools chief, Ron Huberman, resigned from the $230,000-a-year job.
While Brizard got high marks on the education side and understanding policy, he has been criticized for his management style, including the way he communicates and decisiveness.
According to published reports, his annual evaluation gave him low marks for the way he communicates and runs the district. However, school board President David Vitale commended Brizard for his work during the year.