Brizard starts job as CPS chief

May 26, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Jean-Claude Brizard spent most of his day visiting schools and no time talking with reporters. Brizard kicked off a school listening tour by inviting cameras only, not reporters.

Brizard's spokesperson says it was nothing personal or calculated. The new CEO was too busy visiting schools spending the afternoon in staff budget meetings.

At 6-foot-5, Brizard, 47, bent down to kid level to talk with students at Guggenheim Elementary school in Englewood.

"We've had conversations already about new initiatives that are coming into place, such as common core standards, such as assessments coming on board, such as even science standards that I said, 'Hey, we need to take a look at some science standards,'" said Vikki Stokes, principal of Guggenheim Elementary School.

"He was basically just asking, 'Hey, how do you like school, tell me about yourself, I'm just trying to really build relationships quickly," said Vikki Stokes, the principal of Guggenheim Elementary.

The second leg of Brizard's tour Thursday was in a science class with worms and lizards. One student said she wants Brizard to improve the food in school cafeterias

"The kind of improvements I'd like to see to our school is our lunch and breakfast. Because sometimes when I eat the lunch I get a little dizzy," said Rosaria Hooker, seventh grade.

Latasha Thomas, 17th Ward alderman, also talked to Brizard. She's the chairman of the Chicago City Council Education Committee.

"Our neighborhood schools need more magnet programs within the school. I think it could build up the entire school by having a program within the school," said Thomas.

While Brizard did a lot of talking, he did not talk with reporters, and he was not available when the school board passed a resolution approving his appointment Wednesday.

He will make $250,000 a year, but Brizard will still negotiate a final contract with the incoming school board.

Brizard's spokesperson says the new CEO is not ducking questions - he just wants to spend his first day at schools and with staff.

Outgoing CPS interim CEO Terry Mazany says his replacement is up the challenge.

"He is clearly fully capable of handling the myriad responsibilities here - he's got the energy to move fast," said Mazany.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Brizard to the position. He comes from Rochester, New York, where he was superintendent, and where the teachers union gave him a vote of no confidence. He was a New York City physics teacher previously.

So far, Brizard has had one meet-and-greet meeting with CTU president Karen Lewis.

"He's very personable," said Lewis. "He's affable, he is not, like, standoffish... it is... very open."

However, Lewis says the bottom line is the school system is under mayoral control. After all, it was Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel who would not let Brizard answer questions when he was appointed in April.

While that concerns Lewis, she says the CTU is more than willing to give Brizard a chance.

"Everybody gets to have a clean slate, right?" said Lewis. "This is still America and there are second acts."

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had issued a scathing report against his firing actions of an administrator.

At Wednesday's school board meeting, Terry Mazany made a point about the importance of collaboration between the union, school board and the CEO.

After his visit to Guggenheim Elementary Thursday morning, Jean-Claude Brizard visited Juarez High School.

His plan is to visit schools between 7 and 10 a.m. in the morning for the next few weeks.

His spokesperson and the mayor's office say there will be plenty of opportunities soon for Brizard to take reporters' questions.

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