CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett defends plan to close schools

March 27, 2013 3:21:57 PM PDT
Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is defending the controversial decision to close dozens of schools.

As the marchers reached CPS headquarters at 125 South Clark Wednesday afternoon, they assemble five stories below the office window of Byrd-Bennett who took the district's top job only six months ago.

She understands and defends the rights of demonstrators to protest school closings and consolidations, she said.

"This is a part of democracy in America so I get that," Byrd-Bennett said.

However, she reminded those in the streets that the process to decide the specifics of the program she'll manage will continue for another two months.

"During the months of April and May, the hearings go on.There's still the opportunity on the back end for community to essentially weigh in and to participate in the panels and the hearings moving forward," Byrd-Bennett said.

She led the troubled Cleveland Public Schools from 1998 to 2006. In Cleveland she won praise for improving test scores and the district's fiscal health.

Toward the end of her tenure there was controversy as she closed underutilized schools as part of a larger effort to balance her budget.

"We delivered, we came out of financial emergency. We came out of academic emergency. People then got it," she said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a similar declaration about Byrd-Bennett's predecessor Jean-Claude Brizard, who parted ways with Emanuel a few weeks after last year's teachers' strike.

"I have absolute confidence in Barbara Byrd Bennett," Emanuel said. "Barbara Byrd-Bennett is tough enough and she's smart enough and she's sensitive enough to see this through and she's put together a tremendous team."

In the midst of union and parental outcry over the Chicago closings and consolidations plan, Byrd-Bennett insisted she is not worried about being the next fall guy for city hall.

"To the question of will I become a fall guy? I don't even think about that. I think about am I doing the best for kids. Am I consistent and parallel with the thinking of the city, the broader city. And if the answer to both of those questions is yes, I don't worry about the rest," she said.

While it's possible the school board could make changes in which schools are closed, she said she is focused on making sure the plan in place is executed.

She wants to make absolutely sure that the consolidated schools deliver their promised improvements, she said.