Rahm announces new CPS CEO

Posted by Kristen Mack, Noreen Ahmed-Ullah and Joel Hood at 9:34 a.m.; last updated at 2:01 p.m.

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel today named Jean-Claude Brizard as the new Chicago Public Schools CEO.

Brizard comes to Chicago from Rochester, N.Y., where he spent about three years as schools superintendent. Brizard, who also spent 20 years as a teacher and administrator in New York City, is credited in Rochester with improving graduation rates and some test scores, but has clashed with teacher union officials over his support of charter schools and merit pay for teachers.

“J.C.’s leadership put Rochester schools on a new path,” Emanuel said today at a news conference at Kelly High School on the Southwest Side. “J.C. has also made politically difficult decisions to put the children of Rochester first.”
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.

Brizard did not take questions, instead reading a statement.

“I am honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to serve Chicago,” Brizard said. “There is no greater calling than to the field of education. We have the power to change the lives and trajectories of children.”

Reaction to the appointment already is rolling in. (Read more here.)

Janet Knupp, CEO of the education reform group the Chicago Public Education Fund, said Brizard comes from a district in Rochester that’s facing some of the same issues as CPS. For one, Rochester has about an $80 million deficit while Chicago has a $720 million deficit, but the Rochester school district is one-tenth the size of CPS so it’s comparable, she says.

“The difficult choices that he’s making there, he’ll have to make it here,” Knupp said.

Emanuel also introduced the rest of his CPS team: Dr. Noemi Donoso, chief education officer, who comes from Denver schools; Tim Cawley, chief operating officer, who comes from the Academy of Urban School Leadership; and Diana Ferguson, chief financial officer, an executive at Sara Lee and Folgers Coffee.

The mayor-elect also announced school board members who will be appointed after Emanuel takes office May 16: Penny Pritzker, the wealthy business executive and campaign fundraising chief for President Barack Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign; David Vitale, a banking executive; Jesse Ruiz, an attorney who is returning to the board and stepping down as chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education; Henry Bienen, the former president of Northwestern University; Mahalia Hines, a former CPS principal and mother of rapper Common; Rod Sierra, a former WGN radio reporter and People’s Gas spokesman; and Andrea Zopp, the recently-appointed CEO of the Chicago Urban League.

Emanuel has been conducting a national search for someone to helm Chicago’s beleaguered school district, which has had three CEOs in three years.

Emanuel has been looking for someone with experience in an urban school setting who can bring stability to the third-largest school district in the nation. The new CEO will be 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 submitted his resignation in Rochester today. The school district there posted his letter online.

The school board president in Rochester, N.Y., told reporters there today that Jean-Claude Brizard is expected to resign after about three years.

MC

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