Who Will "Run" CPS?

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.

Swanson (Emmanuel announcement here), Cheatham (CPS bio here), Bennett (CPS bio here)


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  • Alex, the options you give are fail, fail, fail and fail. Here is my take on why:

    Brizard hasn't been a leader since day one. Being affable isn't good enough to keep an executive position. Essentially, the CPS CEO position has been vacant since Huberman left. You can't possibly count Mazany and even though I didn't like Huberman, that man at least attempted to lead. Keeping Brizard would just perpetuate a culture where the bureaucrats and the board (err Mayor) drive decision making. I think we can all agree that is not working for anyone.

    Cheatham is probably the most disliked person in CPS today and would flame out in less than a year. Teachers, chiefs, principals and all but a few loyal bureaucrats revile her. She is not a reformer, she isn't a teacher advocate and her test scores when she was a chief of schools were awful. Oh, and she has a propensity for putting down parents in public meetings! So, she has no base. Cheatham is only in the mix because she is David Vitale's pick (Vitale and Cheatham's daddy are rich buddies) and Vitale can control her.

    Swanson, Mayor's lap dog, no education experience and when she was budget director of CPS set up the budget deficits the district faces today. Only makes sense if the Mayor wants to drive the district to bankruptcy. Swanson also used to work for Penny Pritzker (maybe that is how Penny got all that TIF $$$) and clearly Swanson would do the bidding of Penny if picked. My guess in that case is Pritzker also replaces Vitale as board chair.

    Barbara Byrd Bennett track record in Detroit and Cleveland says it all. Is that what any of us want for Chicago?

    Unfortunately, I do think one of these three replaces Brizard and soon. This is not a good sign for public education in our city.

  • In reply to cpsparent:

    Hey, all you parents over at CPS Obsessed (http://cpsobsessed.com/2012/09/28/revised-20122013-calendary-has-been-announced/#comments) who are upset about the spring break moving up a week, Cheatham is your girl. It is her department and her signature that signed off on the new calendar. They are now trying to blame the CTU, but it was her team that gave us 6 more half days and decided to mess with the holiday and spring break for tens of thousands of families.

  • In reply to Inside125:

    The reason that the calender was changed has nothing to do with the strike.It was changed because of Good Friday.For 20 years the week of spring vacation has included Good Friday.No body at the Board will ever admit it ,but that is the reason.Before that clean up week was
    always the last week of April. Since then it has roamed from the second week of March to the last week of April.Whoever wrote the first calender forgot about Good Friday and the strike gave them an excuse to fix their mistake.It will be very interesting to see if anybody
    will work that day since it qualifies as a religious holiday.

  • In reply to cpsparent:

    I pick Swanson for Best Hair.

  • In reply to cpsparent:

    Jen Cheatham is gunning for the top job (I work at 125). She has been for months. But after the calendar mess she has created this past two weeks and her bungling of implementation of the longer school day the past year, she isn't likely going to be in CPS for long, let alone get the top job. Others comments about her being prickly can't be over stated, but it is her lack of management skills that will do her in.

    Swanson has been a much bigger presence lately and her name comes up a lot on the fifth floor, but it is sounding more and more like Bennett is going to get the job and soon.

  • Cheatham would be awful. Alex, how is she even an option? She must be her own bandwagon because no one I know can stand her. How else can someone with bad test scores, no people skills and disdain for educators and parents be under consideration. The only "qualification" I can think of is she has a degree from Harvard. Unless of course she is the bad witch that is being bandied about to make the other two options look better.

  • All I can say is that the names Alexander has put out are names that are floating out there. He did not just throw darts at a board to come up with these names. I decline to comment on the merits of the choices and I have already said I agree with much of Alexander's commentary on the situation Mr. Brizard found himself in here in Chicago.

    I would add that if I were Mr. Brizard's career coach I would have not recommended that he take the jump up to a district the size of CPS from a district with about 34,000 students. You have to be a number cruncher to in anyway wrap your head around a district the size of CPS. Mr. Brizard has a strong command of educational research, all be it selectively utilized, but he does not appear to be deeply involved with seeking out his own analysis of the mass of data avaiable to him.

    You also have to be what I call an educational politican to function in the crazy job Brizard has. Its a balancing act between the Mayor, other elected officals based in communities, the Illinois General Assembly, Saul Alinsky trained community activists and organizations, poor and middle class parents, ethnic and race specific politics, and the teachers union. I am not sure one person can do it all, therefore its the leadership team that counts not just the CEO.

    Rod Estvan

  • In reply to Rodestvan:

    JTS can do that job.

  • In reply to dirtysouth:


  • TODAY'S BIG NEWS STORY- CPS SAYS IT HAS NO PLAN TO CLOSE 120 SCHOOLS: CPS lies, plain and simple. The Chicago Public Schools has a racial make-up of students as follow: Whites-8.6%, African-Americans-42.6%, Native-Americans-0.4%, Pacific Islander-0.1%, Hispanic-43.7%, Multi-Racial-1.1%, Asian-3.2%, Hawaiian-0.1%, and others-0.3%. Many African-American and Hispanic low-income students face every day overcrowded classrooms, weeks without textbooks, and after-school hours marred by violence. African-American students are forced to travel to areas that are unsafe for them because of school closures, consolidations, phase-outs and turnarounds. The closings, consolidations, phase-outs and turnarounds have disproportionately affected African-American schools on the West and South Sides. Then the Humboldt, Near West Side, followed by Grand Boulevard, these areas have been the locations of the most school actions (i.e.- closings, consolidations, phase-outs and turnarounds) in the Chicago Public Schools. Closings, consolidations, phase-outs and turnarounds are also clustered around former CHA developments. Very few of the schools shut down have remained vacant. Many now house charter schools, without neighborhood attendance boundaries. The expected closings, consolidations, phase-outs and turnarounds of an additional 120 neighborhood schools over the next five years will add to this problem. CPS is also planning to open up 60 additional charter schools funded by the Gates Foundation. The schools chosen for school actions are school that are deemed underperforming and/or underutilized. This practice will displace more African-American students and force them to venture into neighborhoods where it might not be safe for them. A study by The Chicago Reporter found that nearly 80% of the homicides in Chicago since 2008 occurred in 22 African-American or Hispanic communities. These are the same communities where closures, consolidations, phase-outs and turnarounds have been concentrated in the past ten years. A student's poverty has also played a major impact on student learning. The United States student poverty rate is 20% and is predicted to rise to 25% by 2015. The student poverty rate in Chicago is over 30% and predicted to rise to over 35% by 2015. We must attack one of the main reasons why students are not learning, student poverty. When student's poverty rates fall, student's test scores rise.

  • I think Big Bird should be the next CEO for the Chicago Public Schools. If Mitt Romney is the next president of the USA, Big Bird will be out of a job. P.S.- I see a Saturday Night Live skit based on this.

  • No one thinks of Ranghell--why is that? He makes more than Brizard for sooo few schools, he qualifies in 3 food groups-male, hispanic (which has more students in CPS, sincepushing blacks out) and... Icing--he has the mayor's ear. (bet you thought I'd write something else.) Ranghel will get hispanic vote out for Rahm. Payback.
    I will pull a Katharine Hepburn, Ms. Cheatham; quit/leave-be with your child. No, Harvard lady, women cannot have it all. Baby first.

  • I've met JCB a few times at various meetings. I found him to be an attentive listener, thoughtful, extremely intelligent, and reasonable in hearing criticism. I'm a teacher, and I like him. He was a teacher, after all - much more than can be said for the string of leaders we've burned through in the last decade. And I like the way he has tried to reach out to the community by doing that show on WBEZ and doing tele-townhalls.

    I know being a nice guy doesn't mean someone is a brilliant CEO, but just think. Could ANYONE fix this system? Think of the greatest CEOs of all time (Jobs, Gates, Iacocca, Oprah)...could any of THOSE people right this ship? No. No way. JCB is tasked with improving achievement in the state that comes in last place in the country for spending on education. I hate that teachers are being judged poorly for not being able to perform miracles, and I think the same applies to the CEO's office. Our funding system is seriously screwed up. How is someone supposed to come in and fix that in a year?

    I alsohate that every time we get a new Big Boss, he fires everyone at 125 and starts with a new team. It makes it impossible to develop relationships with the people running programs. I have no idea who downtown is in charge of curriculum or program for my content area - it has been a revolving door. We need some stability. I would personally love to see us keep Brizard and ditch the mayor.

  • The mayor is in charge-there's the rub. If Rahm really wanted CPS success, he would have it. We must stop fooling ourselves. Other than CTU, Rahm always gets his way-for quite a long time. There are vetted and proven CPS employees who could and would do the job and accomplish much for 2/3rds of the salary, but they are not wanted. There is reason for this-it supports Rahms plan for CPS.

  • Sorry to tell you guys it will be Beth Swanson. shes the prettiest but Bennett is the best of the 3. Jc is toast. It's just a matter of when. Cheatham will stay as long as vitale does. If Beth turns it down it will be Bennett. The Mayor
    Likes Bennett for matching Karen in negotiations

  • True dat-pc color for this town. Weakness-her elitism.

  • Have you read the previous employment issues about 3B?

    Rod Estvan would be an excellent candidate to run CPS....

  • In reply to district299reader:

    Oh, Estvan would be so great. Captain, my captain.

  • "... imagine, for example, blaming Mother Theresa for poverty in Calcutta..." (From Aguilera's brilliant description of systemic incompetence in CPS management at ow.ly/egB1u). Thank you for linking to that.

  • In reply to chicago:

    Why can't I get that link to open on my computer? Is that the full link? Thanks

  • In reply to district299reader:

    "... imagine, for example, blaming Mother Theresa for poverty in Calcutta..." (From Aguilera's brilliant description of systemic incompetence in CPS management at ow.ly/egB1u).


    Are you including the closed parenthesis in the link? That would mess it up. I copied and pasted the link as I originally posted it and it works for me.

  • "what if I told you that four of the top ten Illinois’ elementary schools for 2010-2011 were in Chicago from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and six of the top ten Illinois high schools for 2012 were also in Chicago, also from the CPS? Would you then think that the CPS does possess a formula of producing good schools, and eventually good students? I would. And it does. The question is why isn’t it replicated, duplicated or refined as much? That’s a very good question. Because from personal experience as a successful teacher (this from two education coaches’reviews, students’ evaluations of my work, instructor evaluations, etc.) and giving it some thought, I think a suitable quality education can be offered to those not attending those top schools. It just isn’t being done.So what gives?" (From Aguilera's brilliant description of systemic incompetence in CPS management at ow.ly/egB1u).

  • no one's written to tell me that i've got it all wrong in terms of the discussions about what happens next, and candidates, but a couple of folks have written to tell me that my characterization of swanson in re charters might have been a bit overly simplistic.

    like anyone working for the mayor, swanson isn't against charters -- but that doesn't make her a UNO-style enthusiast or privatization fiend, either.

    anything else wrong or missing about my descriptions of the various unconfirmed candidates, or about the background dynamics?
    you know what to do.

  • You're wrong as usual Alex.

    If Swanson usurps Brizard, she will become both a UNO-enthusiast and a privatization fiend.

  • happy to learn more about swanson than i already do, but (as usual) you've provided no evidence.

  • Who will “Run” CPS?

    Hopefully not the ‘leadership’ at Henson Elementary School
    Henson was always pretty bad but now it’s like one of the ten worst performing schools in the system!

  • As brilliant as Rod is I don't think I've ever seen him claim he can solve the severe problems that CPS and the city are facing. Much more likely the mayor would choose someone who's deluded or a manipulative sociopath who claims they can solve those problems as a means of promoting their own self interest, because hey, if they say they can do it, maybe they can!

  • ... of course they will hire someone who says they can solve all of the problems, even though that is an impossibility. That person will stick around for a few years and then move on...

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