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The No Confidence Vote

January 14, 2011

In the last month, the teacher’s union in Rochester, New York, the Rochester Teacher’s Association (RTA) has built up to and started the process for a vote of no confidence in the Rochester City School District Superintendent, Jean-Claude Brizard.

Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard

The build up to this has been a long time coming, as rank-and-file teachers within schools have long expressed frustration with the none too subtle hostility and disregard received from Brizard’s administration, policies, and overall agenda. As a Broad Superintendent’s Academy alumni Brizard has brought the Broad-agenda into Rochester wholesale.

Having been within schools and reached out to the community locally I have communicated extensively with teachers, parents, and community members, especially given the important work we at the Community Education Task Force are building.  Several revealing conversations with various concerned parties have proved insightful during our outreach.

One teacher that I spoke to and asked about his thoughts on the vote of no confidence responded saying, “I ask myself a simple question: has my job gotten easier or harder while he has been the superintendent and have kids benefited or been harmed as a result of his policies and leadership?” Given that, according to this teacher, the answer to the former question was no and the latter was that students have been harmed, his choice in the upcoming vote became clear.

Parents and community members have very similar expressions of opposition especially considering the disregard for open, transparent dialogue with parents. Several parents expressed continued frustration with the district’s unwillingness to take parent and community input feedback seriously. At a December School Board meeting in Rochester, parents, teachers and concern community members overwhelmingly rejected Brizard’s administrations’ unilateral attempts

School 6, one of several schools Brizard intends to close

to close schools without so much as a whisper to parents, staff, administration, or even the school board. Even by the Broad Foundation’s School Closure Guide, there is a firm advisement that a successful school closure process has to involve sufficient community feedback, engagement, and revision of plans.

Anti-Brizard/Broad agenda attitudes have gained traction among many of the parents I’ve organized and worked with in Rochester. When parents heard from the media that there was a proposed plan to close their child’s school rather than from Brizard or his administration, that angered and mobilized many parents. Some parents I work with have brought serious alternative proposals, ideas, and discussions to Brizard’s door only to leave feeling patronized, dismissed, and degraded. Frequently, parents, teachers, students, or community members who question or criticize Brizard’s agenda in any shape or fashion are thrown to the side as mere “noise” or “defenders of the status quo” (not a new rhetorical technique by any means).

This brings us to Brizard’s response via email to us teachers. Keep in mind, this email only came once the RTA’s Rep Assembly had unanimously voted to proceed with the vote of no confidence.

Dear Rochester Teachers:

Next week, I will be giving a “State of Our Schools” presentation to the community. This presentation will show the progress we have made as a district and the challenges we face as we work to improve our schools and support student achievement.

Know that the progress we have made and the increases in achievement we have realized are, ultimately, the result of the work you do each and every day in the classroom. What goes on in our schools is the most important factor influencing student success.

As superintendent, I must keep my focus on students, and I appreciate all of the teachers and other staff who are working to do the same. The idea of tension during contract negotiations is expected; the idea that our teachers do not trust my intentions saddens me. I cannot be successful without you, because our children cannot be successful without you.

I know I can do a better job of communicating with teachers. I also know that large numbers of teachers believe we are on the right track. I ask that you join me in exerting our energies on the battle to improve student performance, not the conflict between union and district leadership. The latter can, I believe, be resolved with the help of a mediator. The former can only be waged by working together toward the common goal of helping our students succeed.

Sincerely,

Jean-Claude

Jean-Claude Brizard

Rochester City Public Schools | Superintendent

p:  585.262.8378 |  e: brizard@rcsdk12.org

I immediately began asking fellow teachers for their response to this email. The first response I enjoyed quite a bit from an outspoken fantastic teacher:

You wanna bash us and disrespect us and then act like you trickin yourself out to us teachers and our union in a phony email now that you’re concerned about your career is gonna convince of us anything? Too little, too late so keep it moving.

Another teacher, who grew up in Rochester’s urban Northeast section and has children in the district, stated,

We need to make clear that it’s not only Brizard’s style of leadership also known as ‘my way or the highway’ that needs to go but his entire agenda, which we as teachers and parents reject.

In response to this momentum, the local corporate media has attempted to circle the wagons around Brizard and his agenda (time for more teacher/organizer alternative media, anyone?) In an editorial response to the vote of no confidence and Brizard’s response email to teachers, the Democrat and Chronicle’s editors’ wrote:

The upcoming “no confidence” vote on the Rochester schools superintendent provides a teachable moment for Jean-Claude Brizard.

Already, he’s acknowledged to teachers, through an e-mail, that he can do a better job of communicating with them. That’s a good start.

But Brizard must make this a top priority because he needs teachers and the community on his side if his reform efforts are to be successful. Many of those reforms, such as how teachers are evaluated and paid, are controversial.

Add in that contract negotiations are at impasse, and naturally teachers feel uneasy. That’s what lack of information does; it breeds confusion and fear. And when the bulk of the teachers’ information is coming from their union, then, of course, teachers are going to side with it. But union leaders are concerned mostly with giving up power, and they can preserve their power by keeping members scared about changes.

That’s why Brizard must become much more accessible to teachers, by holding regular forums for teachers where they can quiz him directly on his ideas, and by sending regular e-mail updates. He needs to listen to teachers; most likely he’ll get some good ideas.

But it’s not just teachers that Brizard needs to reach, it’s parents, too. Brizard should visit churches to talk about improving children’s education. Upcoming Black History Month events provide a perfect opportunity to be approachable. Of course, Brizard can’t be everywhere. He should tap his top lieutenants to get out, too.

Finally, community and business leaders who have backed mayoral control can’t be silent. They should speak up publicly in favor of Brizard and his work.

Poor communication can derail reform efforts, just ask Michelle Rhee, the ousted Washington, D.C., schools chief. Brizard must embrace lessons learned there, too.

This unashamed championing of both Brizard’s privatization agenda and mayoral control did not slip by teachers, parents and community members. Several parent allies approached me quickly after receiving this story in the paper, passionately proclaiming (paraphrased from conversation),

Overall, it’s not a matter of a lack of information that ‘breeds confusion and fear’ in this situation. It’s his leadership and game plan itself that has turned people off. What these media hacks don’t want to admit is that misinformation, improper communication, and the resulting confusion is not by accident, it’s on purpose. If people don’t know or are confused as to the facts, it’s easier to mislead them and knock their efforts to organize against you when you’ve got power.

As this vote of no confidence goes forward, there is much to be learned and gained. As part of the “war for the soul of our schools,” as allies have branded this struggle, we can’t afford to let down our guard nor let these opportunities slip away.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2011 2:13 pm

    Mark,

    As a fellow member of the Community Education Task Force — I just wanted to thank you for your consistency and diligence relative to informing parents, educators,activists and other concerned community members in our city, state, and around the nation about our ongoing local struggle to build a coherent, collaborative, united movement of parents, students, educators, activists and others — so that we can successfully fight for “the souls of our schools,” and for the objective best interests of our students and families.

    We must continue to oppose the privatization of public schools agenda at every turn and on every level, i.e., locally, regionally and nationally. One of the most important reasons why we must build strong local movements is because combined and united such local movements can be developed into regional movements, which then, in turn can lead to that which we ultimately need, i.e. a strong, connected and united nationally anti-privatization movement that will make the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement look like child’s play.

    The Struggle Continues…

    Howard J. Eagle
    Rochester City School District Parent
    and member of the Community Education Task Force (http://communityeducationtaskforce.rocus.org)

  2. January 18, 2011 8:31 am

    We have a similar situation in Seattle with our Broad Superintendent alum, Dr. Marie Goodloe-Johnson.

    See: http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/the-battle-for-seattle-part-4/

  3. mariasallee permalink*
    January 18, 2011 7:49 pm

    What was the turning point that allowed self-serving (possible) bullies to get control of the school systems of this country? This story is too painfully similar to some of the ones in my area…And possibly in those of many readers.

  4. markfriedman1 permalink
    January 21, 2011 12:07 pm

    Maria,

    There most likely has been several turning points along the long historical road towards our current reality in public education. Certainly some of the main factors have been the shock doctrine manipulation of ‘crisis in education’ rhetoric used to promote a privitization agneda. While there certainly is a deep, systemic problems in education, I would strongly argue that the proposed solutions by the deformers are anything but proper solutions.

    Another turning point was the build up to NCLB, then RTTT, together with the forces that propelled Arne Duncan to become Sec of Ed. None of these pivotal moments happened in isolation, and the growth of the movement that pushed the pro-business agenda that underscored these events is in my eyes the major turning point that allowed leaders like this to be accepted, promoted, and protected in leadership positions.

    Anyone else, please feel free to add other major turning points as I’m sure I left out several in my brief historical break down there.

    • sara andrea-neill permalink
      December 27, 2012 11:36 pm

      Mark were you on the video clip warning Chicago of Brizard… i just watched it as I was researching Michele Hancock. She is our Superintendent and although she was involved in the Marilyn Patterson Grant Civil suit against Brizard I believe she has similar intentions in our district that Brizard did in Rochester. Anti union anti teacher closing schools, she has a Transformation Plan for our district that has certainly transformed our schools this year!! search “Kenosha Parents for Change” on Facebook to see all the ill affects. Our district was not in need of change… She brought with her consultants from Rochester, Sonia James Wilson and Grant and is pushing money spent on Diversity training while laying off hundreds of teachers and class sizes are huge. Enacting multiage classrooms in our grade schools and dropping our honors only classes and replacing them w mixed ability classrooms where the teacher is to differentiate to the wide range in ability levels including those who want to do a honor distinction once a month project. So our schools are getting a watered down education at best! No more honors only classes in middle school. They are not “EQUITABLE” because they don’t represent a diverse enough population of students in them I guess??? Help Kenosha, WI! Can’t some other city offer Michele Hancock a job so she will leave our district as J.C. Brizard did!?

      • sara andrea-neill permalink
        December 27, 2012 11:40 pm

        http://blip.tv/indy-tv/about-brizard-a-message-from-rochester-to-chicago-updated-5089580 the people of Rochester try to warn Chicago about Brizard…many things they say about him fit what we would say of Hancock rt now…

        http://ragdujour.blogspot.com/2010/03/superintendent-hiring-why-didnt-kenosha.html

        They would also have found out that while they were cutting a deal with Hancock she was embroiled in a battle with teachers at a Rochester school (blandly called School #41) who recently staged a “no confidence” vote in their principal, Roschon Bradley. According to WHAM-TV in Rochester:

        Teachers say Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard and Chief of Human Capital Initiatives Michele Hancock held a staff meeting earlier this week and implied the teachers at School #41 are racist for banding against Bradley, who is black.

        Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski said teachers who attended the meeting said Brizard and Hancock “berated them and lectured them. Teachers were shocked and hurt and disappointed that the district seemed to suggest that the problem wasn’t with the principal, it was with them.”

        Urbanski said Hancock told the teachers their vote of no confidence was perceived as racist and as a bullying tactic.

        http://www.examiner.com/article/teachers-vote-no-confidence-principal-of-school-41

  5. January 25, 2011 12:56 am

    At least this superintendent is qualified. In New York City the new Chancellor, not superintendent, is not qualified and there is no vote of NO Confidence. What happened? What is the criteria for a vote of NO Confidence? Please meet the unqualified superintendent here:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/47515818/Genocidal-Crisis-in-NYC-Public-and-Charter-Schools-People-Living-in-One-Region

  6. Sean permalink
    February 11, 2011 8:47 pm

    Jean Claude Brizard is a fraud as a Superintendent. The RCSD needs to fire him immediately and hire his replacement : Marilyn Patterson-Grant. Dr. Grant is everything Brizard is not! She is intelligent, student centered, committed to Rochester and respected by ASAR, RTA, and BENTE. Brizard is worthless and should be fired immediately. Please do not call him “Dr. Brizard” as he has only has a Masters Degree in Education!!!

    • markfriedman1 permalink
      February 11, 2011 10:33 pm

      Sean, I was not planning on calling him “Dr. Brizard” anytime soon. I agree with all of your statements, as Marilyn Patterson-Grant was a highly respected leader in the district who kept students, parents, and schools’ best interest at heart.

      • January 17, 2013 12:40 pm

        What does your community think of Michele Hancock… She came to our community in Kenosha WI in 2010 when she left there, I believe when Brizard left or around then. She was the Human Capital (HR) person. There was some controversy with spending money on resort for training and her and Brizard accussed parents and teachers of being racist when they had a vot of no confidence in their Principal at school #41 I beleive… I know Brizard is a Broad trained Super… Do you know if Hancock, who is our current Super in Kenosha, was trained or if she appeared to align w Brizards philosophies? She is showing signs of it here as parents are organizing and researching her to figure out her motive and what she may have planned next for our community schools. Their are strained relations w teachers and a atmosphere of fear and intimidation for teachers who voice concern over her Transformation Plan that was implimented in our KUSD schools. 2 schools were closed last yr, class sizes are big, we now have multiage classrooms, she got rid of Honors Classes due to the lack of diversity?? She has made comments about the lack of diversity in our orchestra and singers groups… EQUIT over EXCELLENCE seems to be the theme. She has hired in outside consultants in our district, some from Rochester, all to improve diversity and equity… We had no issues w this in our district. She started a teacher training group called DELTA group which deals w diversity and equity and the total monies spent on consultants is 1.4 million all when we had hundreds of teacher layoffs this past year! Our classrooms have huge class sizes and we have full inclusion, where she got rid of the EBD (self contained) classrooms for the children that have severe special needs or behavior issues, they are know all in the regular ed class rooms as Hancock believes the more diverse the classrooms the better. I get her idea here and agree it sounds wonderful in writing but in reality the classrooms are chaotic and loud with behavior problems rampent. All kids are being cheated, the ones that need help can’t get it because the teachr is spending the day putting out fires and keeping kids in their seat that are not used to being in big classrooms and the high achievers are being cheated because they are not getting challenged, they are bored and reviewing what they already know. Michele Hancock is against Ability or Achievment grouping as she feels it is inappropriate! That is what she said at our last School Board mtg. If you have anything to offer us as we feel you would understand after dealing with Brizard, please contact us on our facebook page: Kenosha Parents for Change, it’s an open group… also my email is saraneill@wi.rr.com we watched your video “A message to Chicago” after the school board mtg that Brizard never showed up to… the one where you had 100 citizens lined up to speak. We have our school board mtg posted on youtube. Attached is Part 1 for the December 18, 2012 Kenosha Unified School Board Meeting. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jf2qoiINiD8 momentum is building here to do a vote of no confidence, would like advice. We have researched the Broad institute but can’t find a link to Hancock yet.

      • sara andrea-neill permalink
        August 6, 2013 10:04 pm

        Good to know she was / is a good player in the education world. She became a consultant for KUSD after leaving Rochester. No disrespect intended but our district did not need more consultants from outside the district. Our Superintendent Dr Michele Hancock brought her and Sonia James Wilson in as paid consultants from Rochester. It cause a stir here due to money spent on consultants 1.4 million all while teachers were let go due to lack of funds??? SO I am glad to hear she was fabulous and want to make sure it is clear it is nothing personal but our community needs more teachers and less consultants.I believe MH has a good heart too – just disagree with her methods to bettering education for our district… not working.

  7. June 5, 2013 8:50 am

    After I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from
    now on whenever a comment is added I recieve four emails with the exact same comment.
    Is there a means you are able to remove me from that service?
    Kudos!

  8. July 16, 2013 4:26 pm

    If you are going for most excellent contents like I do, just go to see this website every day as it provides quality contents,
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  1. Tweets that mention The No Confidence Vote « Failing Schools -- Topsy.com
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  3. The Battle for Seattle, Part 4 | Seattle Education 2010
  4. Manufactured Consent: Pushing Past the Propaganda « Failing Schools
  5. Challenges Still Ahead: Brizard’s departure to Chicago « Failing Schools
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