By John Byrne, Noreen Ahmed-Ullah and Rosemary R. Sobol
9:39 AM EDT, October 12, 2012
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked choice to head the Chicago public schools resigned Thursday, just three weeks after the end of the city's first teachers strike in a quarter century.
Jean-Claude Brizard said he and the mayor agreed he should step down after serving in the post about 17 months. He will be replaced by the school system's chief education officer, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, a former CEO in the Cleveland school system.
“I approached him about a week and a half ago, and I think we agreed that it is best that we separated,’’ Brizard told the Tribune.
He said he approached the mayor after he heard “rumors’’ that the mayor wasn’t happy with him. “I’m the one who started the conversation," Brizard said. "I think perhaps there were issues. I call it a marriage that was perhaps imperfect. My style and personality is maybe not what the mayor wants.
"I have felt he is not comfortable with me,’’ Brizard said. “And he deserves that right.’’
The mayor was “very cordial’’ during their discussion, Brizard said. “He had been a gentleman throughout all of this and very honest.’’
Mayor spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton also said the decision for Brizard to leave was mutual.
"J.C. spoke with (School Board President) David Vitale and the mayor and said 'I'm becoming a distraction. This is becoming more about me than it is about our mission to help the kids,' " Hamilton said.
Brizard said he was sad to leave the job but would continue to work in education.
“I have to tell you it’s a little bit of melancholy and mixed emotions because I’ve come to love the people who work in CPS,’’ Brizard said. “I love to work with kids. . .That’s more important to me that keeping a job. This is stressful but at the same time it’s about the city.
“One thing I can promise you is, that I’m not going to walk away from working with young people,’’ he said.
Brizard said he and his wife have come to love Chicago.
“ I love the city. I love the kids. I think you have amazing teachers here and amazing principals, and I would have loved to stay and work with them for many many years,” Brizard said. “At the same time the mayor has to have the person he is comfortable with.’’
Brizard said he was proud of the work he has done in the last 16 months.
“We have made tremendous gains and I don’t want to be a barrier to that type of work,’’ he said. "The graduation rates are up and the dropout rates are the lowest in CPS history.
“I know what I am doing," he continued. "I have worked in New York City for 22 years. It is the largest school district in the nation," he added.
Brizard said he’s not sure what's next for him. “I have a number of options,’’ he said, and may even stay here in Chicago.
Brizard's resignation was effective immediately, but he will remain on the board as an employee for a “few more weeks.’’
Brizard’s departure had been rumored for weeks, speculation that gained steam as he was virtually absent during much of the drama of a seven-day teachers strike and negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union.
In late August amid heated negotiations between the district and the teachers union, sources told the Tribune that education and business leaders told Brizard that the mayor would blame him for letting the labor situation with teachers get out of hand.
Emanuel flatly denied that report and expressed full confidence in his schools chief. “As soon as I heard about this, I called J.C. and said, 'You focus on the full school day, full school year. You're doing a great job.' “ Emanuel said.
But Brizard's management style was criticized by the Chicago Board of Education in his annual evaluation. The board gave Brizard low marks for the way he communicates and runs the district.
“The organizational effectiveness of CPS could be substantially improved with a more coherent and decisive management decision-making process,” board president David Vitale wrote in a June 11 letter to Brizard that accompanied the review.
Still, Vitale commended Brizard for a “challenging, but solid year” and wrote that he is “off to a good start in year one and there is significant potential to have year two and beyond be even better.”
Brizard also has drawn fire for high turnover in both cabinet-level positions and department heads. The chief education officer resigned in April on the heels of two other cabinet-level departures.
Emanuel named Brizard as the district’s CEO in April 2011, a month before Emanuel officially became mayor.
Brizard came to Chicago from Rochester, N.Y., where he spent about three years as schools superintendent. He was also a teacher and administrator in New York City for 20 years.
Emanuel charged him with the task of instituting a longer school day and year, which turned out to be a lengthy and arduous protest that drew significant opposition from the Chicago Teachers Union as well as many parents.
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