Talking with Chicago Public Schools' Jean-Claude Brizard

February 29, 2012

Chicagoans know that many of the recent conversations about public education in our town have led to some pretty heated exchanges. 

There are a number of contentious issues in play, including failing schools, unimpressive test scores, embarrassingly low graduation rates and the differing views on charter schools.

The Chicago Teachers Union, with Karen Lewis as its president, and Mayor Emanuel’s Board of Education seem to be in a perpetual “arm-wrestling” contest. 

So when my fellow board members from the National Association of Black Journalists-Chicago Chapter asked me to moderate an education forum at Columbia College recently … to say that I was reluctant is probably an understatement.  But after talking with these board members and conferring with my colleague Linda Lutton, who is WBEZ’s education reporter, I agreed to do it. 

The idea proposed by the NABJ-CC was to invite CPS Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard, along with a panel consisting of people who had opposing views on important issues affecting Chicago schools, especially school ‘turn-arounds’ and school closings.  That event plan fizzled.  The actual event turned out to be me doing a one-on-one interview with Mr. Brizard in front of a live audience. 

The CEO seemed pretty much at ease when responding to my questions and also questions from the audience about how some of the more controversial decisions were made.  At times, his answers were heavily laden with cheerleading-type rhetoric. But I found him to be smart, very media savvy and not easily intimidated.  As to the question of whether he’s the person who can get the Chicago Public School System off ‘life support’ -- the jury is still out, and I think they’ll be deliberating for some time to come.