One-on-one with Rahm Emanuel's choice for CPS chief

May 5, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Jean-Claude Brizard will soon take over as schools CEO, pending approval from the Chicago Board of Education.

His appointment was announced several weeks ago, yet Brizard was not allowed to speak to the Chicago media until this week. Brizard defended his record in Rochester on graduation rates and spoke about his willingness to get to work immediately on school reforms.

Brizard spent 21 years in the New York City public school system and the last four in Rochester. He comes to Chicago with 25 years of experience as a teacher, principal and superintendent, but for Brizard, it's going to take more than an educational background to accomplish the daunting task of closing a $720 million Chicago Public Schools budget deficit.

"It's gonna mean some layoffs. It's gonna mean changes in how we do things, but the one thing I have always been a proponent of is to try to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible," said Brizard.

A self-proclaimed data cruncher, Chicago Public Schools next CEO is already going over the numbers and gearing up for what Brizard hopes is a better relationship with the Chicago Teachers Union than the one he had in Rochester, where the union gave him a vote of no-confidence.

While Brizard says an open line of communication with union leadership and direct talks with teachers are key, he says it's time to change the way teachers are paid.

"Moving away from the current system we have across the country, of steps, of lanes, meaning how many years you've been there, how many college credits you have, and to really transform that. But it has to be done with the union, not to the union," Brizard said.

Brizard is eager to bring reforms to the school system. School choice, including charter schools, is a big priority.

He also wants to focus on good principals and give them the freedom to innovate.

"You can't have a leader in charge of a school and you tie their hands and tell them exactly what to do and then want to hold them accountable for results and for success," said Brizard.

The 47-year-old comes from a family of Haitian immigrants who were also educators.

He has kept silent since he was appointed by Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel a few weeks ago. Brizard is now allowed to speak publicly about his plans as CEO.

Brizard says he looks forward to being in charge.

"I worked for a very strong-willed mayor back in New York City, Michael Bloomberg, so I have a lot of experience working with people who are very pushy. I can be pushy myself as well in getting things done, so I will be my own person," said Brizard.

While Brizard says he will be his own person. He adds he would not have accepted the job if he didn't believe in the same reforms as Rahm Emanuel.

Brizard comes to Chicago with a federal lawsuit hanging over his head. A former high ranking school district official in Rochester is suing him for age and race discrimination. Brizard says he fired the woman because of poor performance. Brizard is confident he will win the case in federal court

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