Parent Engagement Wasn't Strong Enough, Says Brizard

Parent Engagement Wasn't Strong Enough, Says Brizard

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 saysFormer CPS CEO Brizard calls Emanuel micromanagerFormer CPS CEO Brizard: Emanuel A ‘Master At Managing Media’,

You can read the full interview here: By the Company It Keeps: Jean-Claude Brizard.


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  • I am going to try to be measured in this post about Mr. Brizard. Having met with Mr. Brizard I have to say that he was something of an intellectual and seemingly devoured educationally related material. Having been a bilingual student in the NYC schools he did have compassion for marginalized and isolated students.
    But, yes here comes the but, you all knew that was coming, Mr. Brizzard had and still seems to have a very idealized vision of leadership driven from false analogies to private sector business executives and venture capitalists.

    This is reflected in Mr. Brizzard's comment “our reform efforts must pivot on the school-building leader who must understand that s/he is the primary human capital manager.”

    I have argued and will continue to argue that you can't turn a principal into a mini-CEO or executive by having them read Colin Powell and 13 Rules of Leadership. Here is one argument that corporate motivational speakers often use "MANAGEMENT is about: CONTROLLING…don’t leave the department, check what they’re up to, define competence requirements and ‘title and position give authority’ V.’s LEADERSHIP, which is about: FREEDOM…finding ways to encourage new ideas, creativity and initiative by letting ‘followers’ participate in a flexible situation where authority is shared."

    I honestly think much of this is BS with some truth mixed in. The most effective corporate leader is the one that generates the greatest returns to shareholders or private equity owners. That leader can do it the nice way or the not nice way it makes little difference in some cases to the bottom line. Some very effective leaders have completely trashed companies in order to wring every dollar out of them and then moved on to the next victim. Others have built highly stable and cooperative cultures at companies and gotten relatively steady rates of returns for years.

    It really depends on the needs and interests of the share holders or private equity owners for a particular rate of return. I know that when I worked in the financial sector I did things to protect my firm's bottom line that caused some people not to want to even spit on me if my heart was on fire and caused other people to think despite personal relationships I did the right thing for the firm. Such is life I guess.

    Principals can't produce profits and to try to make outcomes of children equate to the profit motive is delusional. Relatively small bonuses for principals, even $20,000 is relatively small, do not equate to getting an equity share of a firm or several million a year in bonus money. Here is another problem that I do not think the JC Brizzard fully gets, and that is principals have to have an aura of concern for those little creatures called children. So even if they can seem pretty hard on teachers their public persona is often soft especially at the elementary school level. Many CEOs are anything but that.

    About 40 percent of the highest-paid CEOs in the United States over the past 20 years eventually ended up being fired, paying fraud-related fines or settlements, or accepting government bailout money. So an effective leader in the business world that generates profits and watches the bottom line is a very different character with a different role than a principal who might have a kindly smile for the kindergarten student who is crying because she was pushed by Tommy.
    So I think JC Brizzard's core theory of school reform is deeply flawed. I think that Mr. Brizzard and many others that call themselves reformers are really doing what they think will be looked on favorably by corporate leaders, right leaning education think tanks, and folks like the Koch brothers.

    Rod Estvan

  • Yes, there's been a deification of the MBA approach. Good management is always needed, but there's been something more happening since the '80s that has been destructive to systems like healthcare and education.

  • The Wal-Martization of our public schools is in full swing.

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    Another fine, insightful comment by Rod Estevan. My only point of disagreement is his calling Brizard an intellectual. Though I have not met Brizard personally, my take on him is of a naive goof who believes whatever the authority figures tell him. In this case the "reformers" at Broad academy where he "studied." If you have any real connection to teaching, and buy into this business model hogwash, I truly believe you would have to be either a numbskull or a cynical manipulator. And though he may read a lot of the reform nonsense I don't believe he reads much beyond that. Has he ever read Diane Ravitch?

  • JC Brizard of course read Diane Ravitch especially her writings in support of No Child Left Behind. I have no doubt he knows her book The Revisionists Revised: A Critique of the Radical Attack on the Schools front and back. Brizard like Ravitch is from NYC.

    Now how much of Ravitch's writings of the last few years he has digested is unknown to me. I am sure he prefers the old Ravitch and not the new Ravitch.

    Rod Estvan

  • Mr. Estvan I appreciate your measured reflection.

    Regarding "This is reflected in Mr. Brizzard's comment “our reform efforts must pivot on the school-building leader who must understand that s/he is the primary human capital manager.” Taken at face value this implies, to me, that Brizzard understands that the school principal is the primary leader, motivator, decider, enabler, etc. in the school building. Other than him using a term more common in the business world, what other insight do you have that Brizzard was trying to implement for-profit management practices?

    You have not proven your point, thus far, unless you disagree, fundamentally, that the principal is NOT the "primary human capital manager" at each school.

  • Are teachers a form of human capital? If you could produce a profit from them, well maybe. But unless the principal is running a for profit school that really isn't the case. Even in the case of a for profit school it is hard to link teacher productivity to profits, what teacher productivity is linked to are data sets like graduation rates and test scores.

    So if we are going to start talking about school staff as human capital then that capital has to be linked to a profit based outcome. In a real free market education system children would only be educated to the extent they could be absorbed into the economy. More expensive children might be given very little education at all.

    A real free market education system would in fact look like something out a science fiction novel. All children and their outcomes would be measured against their ultimate productivity in the workplace.

    Rod Estvan

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