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Chicago schools chief out after run-ins with Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Chicago schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard, recruited just 17 months ago by Rahm Emanuel, is stepping down nearly four weeks after the teachers strike. He reportedly infuriated the mayor.

By Staff writer / October 12, 2012



Chicago

Nearly four weeks since the end of the first teachers strike in 25 years, and 17 months after being recruited from Rochester, N.Y., by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in May 2011, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard is stepping down.

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Mr. Brizard’s resignation, announced in a statement released early Friday, highlights the difficulties school administrators face in the Chicago system, where school officials are more directly answerable to City Hall and vulnerable to the political pressures on the mayor.

Unlike previous administrators of what is the nation’s third largest public school system, Brizard was touted as an educator first and a business administrator second. His battle scars earned by dealing with a teachers union in his previous job showed Mayor Emanuel that Brizard had similar mettle for dealing with contentious labor issues in Chicago.

Brizard also believed in many of the reforms Emanuel wanted to implement, such as pushing forward more charter schools, closing underperforming schools, and establishing pay grades based on teacher performance and not seniority.

But Brizard was largely absent from view during last month’s strike, a combative standoff that left Emanuel vulnerable to criticism by voices on both the political right and left. Brizard reportedly infuriated Emanuel by taking a vacation in the days leading up to the strike, and his absence from the public eye during negotiations raised questions among Chicago Public Schools (CPS) employees whether he had resigned. That led Brizard to send an e-mail to staff denying the rumor.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune Friday, Brizard suggested that his management style did not fit well with City Hall. “I call it a marriage that was perhaps imperfect. My style and personality is maybe not what the mayor wants. I have felt he is not comfortable with me,” he said.

Media accounts suggest Emanuel was critical of Brizard’s management decisions involving key hires within the system, and as mounting news stories made that displeasure public, it became clear Brizard was a liability.

“The questions about J.C. became a distraction from what we had to do. We had a mutual agreement [that the distraction was] not helpful.… It kept on becoming about the static and noise about J.C. He said, ‘Look, getting the schools right is more important than me,’ ” the mayor told the Chicago Sun-Times Friday.

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