CPS CEO Brizard: Predecessors efforts were 'incoherent'

June 22, 2012 (CHICAGO)

For J.C. Brizard, the first 12 months after his appointment was made official were used to lay the groundwork for education improvements he says are long overdue. Brizard spent much of his first year in Chicago looking at test scores before he reached a disturbing conclusion about the school district he had signed on to lead.

"We in many ways were lying to parents and to kids about proficiency," Brizard said. "We have kids that are graduating out of elementary school going to high school being told they're proficient and they're not."

Brizard credited his predecessors -- who include the current U.S. secretary of education -- with implementing some good programs. But he called the efforts "incoherent."

"What I found was a reform effort that was somewhat fragmented," said Brizard.

As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed for a longer school day during the past year, Brizard says he replaced over a third of the district's 675 principals, with more to come.

"We're looking at 400-500 principals over five years that we will need to really recruit," said Brizard. "The principal is key in grade schools. I would challenge anyone to find a good school without a good principal."

Next semester, all principals must carry out Brizard's order to teach a nationally recognized "common core standards curriculum."

"And what you'll see is a curriculum that's much more rich, that allows kids to think versus just prepare them for a test," said Brizard.

At his last job in Rochester, New York, Brizard raised the graduation rate but his style made as many enemies as friends.

He downplayed the current acrimonious contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union.

"I'm going to keep this system focused on what needs to be done while we're dealing with all the distractions that come our way," said Brizard.

Brizard says he is not the puppet of Mayor Emanuel, who it is remembered did not allow the CPS CEO he had just appointed to speak at his introductory news conference.

"Trust, this district is run by this Board of Education and this CEO and this team," said Brizard. "The mayor does not get involved in our day-to-day operations nor does he have the time to actually do that."

With a longer school day and year, and major curriculum changes due to begin in September, the pressure is on Brizard's school system to show some results as soon as next summer. As Chicago's mayor himself likes to remind people, Rahm Emanuel is not known for his patience.

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