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Byrd-Bennett had been serving as the interim chief education officer. Brizard stepped down Thursday night, saying the decision was mutual. Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced the new CEO Friday morning.
Friday afternoon, CPS released a number of statements from educators around nation praising Byrd-Bennett's education experience and temperament. She is the fourth CPS CEO in less than two years and faces some serious challenges moving forward.
"As CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, my focus every single day will be on our children, nothing more," said Byrd-Bennett.
Much of the talk at Byrd-Bennett's introductory news conference centered on the man she is replacing, Jean-Claude Brizard.
"He and I talked, agreed that this is the time for new leadership to take us to the next level of achieving what we need to achieve for our children," said Emanuel.
The mayor said it was Brizard who broached the subject of leaving following the city's first teacher strike in 25 years and weeks of whispers and innuendo fueled by leaks to the media questioning his future at CPS.
"He said, 'Look, we're at a point now that I'm distracting from the mission, and the mission is bigger than me,' " Emanuel said.
"I don't think Brizard was a distraction at all," said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. "I think it was pretty clear whose educational agenda this was."
Lewis sees Brizard as the mayor's fall guy for the strike and hopes the hiring of Byrd-Bennett is his attempt to hit the reset button.
"It would be a whole lot better if we work together than continually fighting with one another, especially over difficult decisions that have to be made in the future," said Lewis.
Among those difficult decisions is the issue of school closings, something Byrd-Bennett had to undertake as former CEO of the Cleveland school system.
If Brizard was the mayor's hammer, Byrd-Bennett could be his bridge.
"That is my hope, and that is my dream," Lewis said. "It would be a whole lot better if we work together than continually fighting with one another."
"I have tremendous respect for Karen," said Byrd-Bennett. "I've walked in her shoes. I've never been the union leader, but she understands that I understand the work and the role of teachers."
Byrd-Bennett was herself a teacher and principal in New York as well as a top administrator in Detroit before heading up the schools in Cleveland for seven years.
Friday, Byrd-Bennett, who was part of the CPS bargaining team during teachers talks, extended an olive branch to the union.
"I'm looking forward to two things: a collaborative and a productive relationship with Karen and the members of the CTU," Byrd-Bennett said. "I plan to build the necessary coalitions needed to support our teachers, principals, and school communities."
Brizard was CEO for 17 months. His severance package will include 14 months of salary, nearly $300,000.
Byrd-Bennett's salary, according to CPS, will be the same as Brizard's $250,000-a-year.