Beleaguered CPS chief Brizard to step down

October 11, 2012

Becky Vevea and Linda Lutton

(AP/File)

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard is leaving after 17 months with the district.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel handpicked Brizard to run Chicago's public school system — the third largest in the country — shortly after he took office in 2011. Brizard previously ran the public schools in Rochester, N.Y. and earlier in his career was a teacher and administrator in the New York City public schools.

Contentious teacher contract issues, turbulent hearings on school closings, a push for longer school days and the first teachers strike in 25 years marked Brizard's 17-month tenure. 

In recent months, and throughout the seven-day teachers strike, Brizard remained out of the public eye and was absent during contract negotiations. Rumors about his departure had been swirling for weeks, but Emanuel and other top school officials repeatedly denied them.

As recently as Wednesday night, a CPS spokeswoman denied rumors of Brizard's departure and said "we had a marathon cabinet meeting today."

Emanuel named the district's interim Chief Education Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett as CEO, saying "Barbara is a proven leader and educator with the breadth and depth of experience that make her uniquely qualified to servie Chicago's students and lead Chicago's schools, and I am incredibly proud to welcome her into this position."  

Bryd-Bennett will be CPS's fifth chief executive in four years. She will be the face of two hugely controversial issues—a massive restructuring of the district, including school closings, and a ballooning deficit, caused when CPS has to start contributing more to the teachers' pensions.

The mayor's spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said Brizard told the mayor that it was "nearly impossible" to do his job with all the speculation about him leaving. 

Brizard issued a statement just after midnight Thursday, touting the district's new "Framework for Teaching" developed under his watch. He also cited increases in test scores, the percentage of freshman on track to graduate high school and the decrease in the district's one-year drop out rate.

"I leave this role with great sadness, but with the knowledge that the seeds for true innovation and transformation have been planted," Brizard said in the statement. "They only need to be cultivated."

Heather Anichini, the head of the Chicago Public Education Fund, which has worked closely with Byrd-Bennett, issued a statement late Thursday evening.

“I am optimistic Barbara will build on the successes and talent in schools today, while pursuing a nuanced and aggressive plan for achieving the goal of world-class educational options for all of Chicago’s children,” Anichini said.

The CEO position carried a $250,000 a year salary, but the financial terms of Brizard's departure are not yet known. His departure is by "mutual agreement," the high-level source said.