Shake-up in leadership at Chicago Public Schools

May 1, 2012

(WBEZ/Bill Healy)
Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso, shown here at her first Chicago school board meeting less than a year ago, is leaving the district.

Chicago Public Schools is getting a new Chief Education Officer.

Noemi Donoso, the current number two in command, is leaving less than a year after Mayor Rahm Emanuel plucked her from Denver public schools for his team.

Donoso oversees the educational aspects of the school district. Last June the school board authorized CPS to pay Donoso up to $21,000 to relocate here, on top of her $195,000 salary.

The shake-up in leadership comes as Chicago embarks on several major education initiatives: a longer school day, new standards, and a new way to grade teachers.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll had denied for two weeks that Donoso was on her way out. As recently as Thursday she wrote to WBEZ, "There seems to be a frenzy of people calling beat reporters trying to push this out there. Nothing has changed here." The next day, the district announced Donoso would resign "to pursue national projects that will support the next generation of leaders in urban education.”

Chicago may end up paying Donoso on her way out; Carroll says the terms of any possible payment are still being finalized, and will be made public once Donoso actually resigns.

Donoso is the third top CPS cabinet member to leave in recent months. Also gone: Andrea Saenz, chief of staff to CEO Jean-Claude Brizard; and Jamiko Rose, the district's chief of family engagement.

One day after announcing Donoso's planned resignation, CPS named an interim replacement, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who has held leadership roles in New York City, Cleveland and Detroit public schools.

CPS says Byrd-Bennett has already been working with Chicago over the last 10 months. The Chicago Public Education Fund, a politically connected group made up of Chicago's civic elite, paid Byrd-Bennett to provide “executive coaching” to Chicago’s top school leaders.

In a written statement, CEO Brizard praised Byrd-Bennett as a “seasoned and respected leader with depth and expertise across a broad spectrum of education issues. She has the experience to step in on day one and provide the leadership required."

Update: Donoso's contract states that she must pay back the entire $21,000 relocation stipend she received if she leaves the district before June 30, 2012. The contract is posted below.