Our Sit-Down with CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard

Our Sit-Down with CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard

Like most parents with young kids, our kids’ education is serious business.  That’s why we were excited to receive an invitation to meet face to face with the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Jean-Claude Brizard.  We had questions — about the extended school day, the confusing application process, and his goals for Chicago’s kids — and now we’re happy to report the answers back to you, dear reader.  Take a look.

Education and Community

As a parent of a child attending CPS, I approached the meeting with a number of questions and concerns about the current state of Chicago Public Schools and Brizard's plans for citywide improvement.  As CPS’ new head, Brizard is confronting some staggering statistics: The overall graduation rate for CPS students stands at just 57%, with little more than one in two African Americans being among that percentage.

To address these and other issues plaguing CPS, Brizard wants to implement collective community problem-solving, engaging parents, teachers, and principals in an honest conversation about how best to better our children’s education.  “We must be willing to challenge the way things have always been done,” Brizard asserted.  “That means taking politics out of the classroom and putting education achievement in."  Providing all CPS students with a world-class education, he believes, must start with an honest dialogue about the current state of our schools and a hard look at the facts.

The Extended School Day More is More

More is more when it comes to classroom instruction time, and so the possibility of an extended school day has been on the table in recent months as part of an education reform bill.  Today, CPS schools provide students with 15% less instructional time than the national average.  Chicago children receive, for example, nearly three years less instructional time from K-12 than their peers in Houston.

Happily, Brizard was able to confirm that the reform bill has indeed passed and that the longer school day will go into effect next school year.  The goal is to expand the school day and year, providing 90 minutes of additional instructional time a day.

Speaking to the Chicago Urban League earlier this year, Brizard emphasized the need for this reform, saying that "it's clear to everyone, especially the teachers, that CPS students need more time to meet their academic goals and to allow for the restoration of music, art, and recess.  And it's going to happen."

Confusion Galore: Streamlining the Application Process

Parents with children less than five have yet to experience the CPS application process firsthand.  But for too many of us, the mere thought of doing so conjures up feelings of confusion and frustration.  It was only natural then that, as a parent of a two- and four-year-old, I was eager to hear Brizard’s thoughts on retooling this process.

A parent of a 2-year-old himself, Brizard agreed that the procedures currently in place for applying to a CPS school are overwhelming and confusing.  He even acknowledged that he personally had to seek out assistance in navigating the process at the Neighborhood Parents Network school fair.  In addition, he mentioned that many members of his senior staff with young children also struggled with circumnavigating their options — magnet versus neighborhood school, gifted versus classical curriculum — as well as the overall application process itself.

It was both consoling and concerning to hear from the head of CPS that he too found the process intimidating.  The good news, however, is that Brizard as well as his senior staff understand this issue firsthand and are making streamlining a top priority.  One of their goals is to create a single application for all schools, including magnet, charter, and neighborhood.  In the same vein, another top priority is to restructure CPS’ online presence.  CPS currently hosts more than 40 websites, and Brizard agrees that simplifying and centralizing CPS’ online presence is key to sensibly revising the application process.

Bursting at the Seams

The issue of crowded classrooms came up a number of times, and Brizard did not deny that class size is a concern for parents, teachers, and administrators.  This is a topic we'll continue to raise in future conversations with him, since we all know that even the best teachers and the most well-behaved students need an optimal class size in order to thrive.

Education for the Future

As both a founder of Families in the Loop and a mom of a preschooler, I’m glad I could sit down with Mr. Brizard.  He was open to our questions and eager to hear our feedback and opinions.  He’s got big goals for CPS and, for all of our children’s sake, I want to see him succeed.  I look forward to seeing him implement his ideas and plan to check back in with him in the future to see how his plans are progressing.

Want to speak with Mr. Brizard directly?  Join his “teleforum" discussion this Thursday, Nov. 17, at 6:10 p.m. This is the first of what he hopes will be many opportunities to speak with parents about what CPS is doing to drive the academic achievement of our children and to hear our feedback. To access this teleforum on Thursday, call 1-877-229-8493 toll-free from any phone, and, when prompted, enter the access code 18528.

~By Jamie Fishman, Partner, Families in the Loop

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