So after about a year of careful silence (and a move to Washington DC where he now works for the College Board), the mild-mannered former CPS schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard did an interview with Andy Smarick last week that garnered some attention for its critique of the Emanuel administration’s education agenda and strategy.
What if anything can we learn from Brizard's version of events?
Some of you won’t care, sworn to hate anything related to CPS or having written off Brizard as yet another short-term City Hall pawn appointed by Daley or MRE (Mayor Rahm Emanuel).
Indeed, the interview doesn't challenge Brizard's view of events (Chicagoist describes it as a softball interview).
And Brizard reportedly received a $292,000 severance package in exchange for his quiet exit.
But others may wonder why Brizard decided to speak so candidly about his time in Chicago. (Is he trying to resurrect his reputation, or did the non-disclosure agreement that was presumably part of his severance finally expire?) Does he say anything interesting or noteworthy (besides chipping at Emanuel) that might help us understand what happened during that particularly tumultuous period?
Most important of all, has anything really changed since Brizard left and Byrd-Bennett took over?
As noted in the Tribune story about the interview, one of Brizard’s main complaints is that MRE gave CPS insufficient leeway. According to Brizard, the mayor needs to "learn to let go and allow his managers to lead."
DNAI also covered the JCB interview, noting that MRE didn’t even allow JCB to talk to reporters when his appointment was announced in April 2011. Previous coverage has noted that JCB didn't get to pick his own senior staff, either.
To some extent, Brizard knew he was walking into a tough situation when he considered the job. The initial Chicago setup - a perfect storm of declining revenues plus two aggressive rookies at City Hall and CTU -- could not have been more different than Rochester, where at least initially Brizard had some expectations of a cooperative union leadership team (which didn't pan out).
The Mayor's decision to declare fiscal emergency and block the teachers' anticipated 4 percent raise generated tremendous opposition, and the city's epidemic of violence (or at least so it seemed) boxed them all in.
But while Brizard tried to get a handle on what it would be like working for Rahm ahead of time, he says that he found the advice he received unhelpful. (Take that, everyone who thinks he knows Emanuel.)
Brizard alludes to MRE's reputation for impatience and outbursts though it sounds like he wasn't ever berated by Emanuel (which is either a sign of respect or indifference).
He also calls Emanuel a master of media manipulation, which seems like a strange thing to say given how much awful press the Mayor got from the media both during JCB's tenure and since.
Most important, according to Brizard, the Emanuel Team and CPS needed to take CTU and community relations much more seriously than it did:
"We severely underestimated the ability of the Chicago Teachers Union to lead a massive grass-roots campaign against our administration."
And also this gem:
"The 'how' is at times more important than the 'what.' We need to get closer to the people we are serving and create the demand for change in our communities,” noted Brizard.
By the time the strike came around last September, the rift between Brizard and Emanuel was clear and David Vitale had to step in to handle negotiations while Brizard handled smaller duties like the centers for kids to hang out instead of going to school.
Bearing the brunt of the union protest wasn’t easy, admits Brizard. “It takes a ton of inner strength to watch 4,000+ people in red shirts outside of your window protesting while a very heavy police presence looked on.”
Brizard claims to have been in close communication with Vitale, however. “We talked often and I worked hard to ensure that we did not waiver on key issues. As you can imagine the pressure to capitulate was intense.”
The Brizard remarks weren’t well-timed for CPS, coming just as the school year was beginning yesterday, and may have generated more attention than Brizard intended.
Emanuel's office didn't respond or issued a "we wish him well" statement. Either out of concern or because he was on vacation, Brizard declined to comment to the Tribune Friday.
According to original interviewer Smarick, Brizard’s experiences in Rochester and Chicago “have left him skeptical about the century-old institutional arrangements in place in virtually all American cities.”
Though he doesn’t quite say that districts should be dismantled, Brizard says “our reform efforts must pivot on the school-building leader who must understand that s/he is the primary human capital manager.” [With SBB and principal hiring, I guess CPS is already doing that this year, right?]
Confident and calm to an extreme, the slow-talking Brizard appeals to some and alienates others. The interview also reveals that he’s also a private pilot.
Earlier this week, Emanuel brushed off the criticism of his management style that most of the news coverage had focused on, and reluctantly credited Brizard for overseeing the rollout of the full day and school year that was adopted last year and the citywide full-day kindergarten that's beginning this year.
Here's the coverage: Rahm Emanuel Brushes Off Criticism on Micromanaging, Mayor needs to let his managers manage, former CPS CEO says, Former CPS CEO Brizard calls Emanuel micromanager, Former CPS CEO Brizard: Emanuel A 'Master At Managing Media',
You can read the full interview here: By the Company It Keeps: Jean-Claude Brizard.