Let me begin by saying that I haven’t seen or even heard anything about Jean Claude Brizard’s performance as Mayor Emmanuel’s appointed head of CPS that makes me think it’s necessary or even a good idea to replace him. That being said — everybody seems to think that he’s going to leave, albeit for very different reasons. Read on for my case for keeping Brizard, and for a little bit about the possible replacements.
Whether it’s the rush to implement the longer day or anything else, Brizard has had to do what the Mayor tells him to do. He didn’t craft SB7, or brag about tricking the union or the legislature. He didn’t pick his senior team, which included the overmatched and quickly-departed Noemie Donoso. He didn’t insist on 30 percent for the student achievement portion of the teacher evaluation system. He’s not what Ben Joravsky likes to call a “charterhead.”
He’s been incessantly positive and constructive (if equally bland) in his messaging to the public and to educators. Visionary leadership? Maybe not. Decisive manager? I get the sense he’s not. But his worst moves, far as I know, have been accepting the CPS job under such ridiculous circumstances and (perhaps) not standing up to the mayor or differing with him in any meaningful ways.
Even if Brizard is an ineffective figurehead, I’m not sure that’s enough to warrant making such a major change of leadership in the middle of what’s already been a contentious year for CPS.
Ironically, both teachers and downtown reformers want Brizard replaced — for different reasons. Teachers want him replaced for not standing up to the Mayor, for the incoherence that’s plagued the district management, and for Donoso and Cheatham and all the other senior managers that are disliked. Reformers want him replaced for not being aggressive enough, for not pushing harder.
In my view, these are both mistaken views. City Hall needs Brizard to play good cop and provide continuity and bolster parent confidence. While it’d be fun in the short run to make Emanuel change leaders, CTU needs Brizard to stay in the background so that they can continue vilifying City Hall without any distracting changes of leadership. Plus which, any Brizard replacement would be the same or worse.
Realistically speaking, any replacement would have to be so much better than Brizard to be worth the upheaval. The three names that are being bandied about behind the scenes — nothing official — are Cheatham, the current CIO, Byrd-Bennett, the consulting CAO, and Beth Swanson, the deputy mayor for education. From a career educator’s point of view, Swanson would be a big step backwards. She’s much more comfortable with the idea of using charters to remake CPS. She’s not a traditional educator.