Challenges Ahead: Brizard’s departure to Chicago
Since joining Failing Schools as a writer, I’ve written a fair amount about the policies, leadership, and resistance to
former Rochester City School District Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard. I attempted to have us collectively examine Brizard’s agenda, better known as the Broad Agenda, by understanding what common consequences Eli Broad-trained Superintendents bring to school districts throughout the nation. This process has been filled with numerous struggles, (and questions from the very start) as Brizard has attempted to advance top-down policies filled with dubious unethical mismanagement that many in Rochester have viewed as hostile to some of the basic tenets of public education.
Several times in the last few weeks, parents, schools, and community came together before the Rochester City School Board to criticize Brizard’s draconian budget. These devastating cuts including cuts in arts, music, physical education, social/emotional support programs for students, and libraries for elementary students. The cuts proposed laying off 900 staff, including over 500 teachers (there are roughly 3,200 teachers in the district).
As pressure, criticism, and lack of confidence grew last week, several members of the School Board decided it was time to take a stand and address the rampant information that Brizard was abandoning Rochester for Chicago. Confusingly, this meant for them to express that Brizard was still the Superintendent and that they supported him continuing as Superintendent until he said otherwise. Brizard hadn’t been present the previous week for the parent budget hearings and also hadn’t responded to Board members phone calls, texts, or emails. The suspense was broken on Monday, April 18th when Brizard surfaced and announced his resignation as superintendent of the Rochester City School District (allegedly via text message).
Community tensions and anticipation of such an action had risen considerably. On the one hand, there was palpable excitement and relief among teachers, parents, and community. At the same time there was a burning recognition that we are still in a very precarious position and far from the finish line. On Monday morning, while the announcement was made in Rochester, Brizard was in Chicago with mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel who stated that Brizard would be the next CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Quickly, there were responses from many different sectors. These responses have quickly turned into a dialogue between Chicago and Rochester. Rochester indymedia filmed a “message from Rochester to Chicago” video to further facilitate this communication. Inquiring minds from both cities interrogated Brizard/Emanuel’s claims about Brizard’s “accomplishments“, including graduation rates in Rochester. Those in Chicago have also been curious about lawsuits against Brizard for firing a Deputy Superintendent in Rochester ”because of her sex, age and race”, which proved to be further cause for concern. in Chicago.
Many in Chicago, a city with mayoral control, also have been suspicious about what Brizard’s unilateral appointment by Rahm Emanuel says about the lack of democracy under mayoral control. For a glimpse into what the future will likely hold, we can look to Karen Lewis, Chicago Teachers Union President, who responded to the announcement of Brizard as CEO of CPS, “We get it. I’m going to buy some boxing gloves now.”
On Wednesday the 20th, Brizard delivered a press conference for his exit from Rochester to Chicago. We in the Community Education Task Force and Coalition for Justice in Education, an allied organization, rallied parents, teachers and community to another press conference we organized two floors down from Brizard’s event at central office (we should have the video for both Brizard’s Press Conference and the CETF/CJE Press Conference up shortly). In our press conference, we called for a meaningful parent, community, and educator role in the selection of RCSD’s next Superintendent. Although Brizard’s exit is certainly a victory, if we end up with a continuation of his autocratic policies and a leader with a similar agenda rather than real grassroots reform, then much of the relief being expressed immediately after this news broke will have been in vain.
The following is a blend of the literature detailing the purpose and message of the CETF/CJE Press Conference:
- Dear Rochester Board of Education Commissioners,We are writing as concerned, Rochester City School District parents, grandparents, educators, local, state, and federal tax-paying citizens. As such, we believe that we have a right and responsibility to seek substantial and meaningful input into the process of determining who the next superintendent(s) (both interim and permanent) will be, especially in light of the chaos, debacle, and public spectacle surrounding the current, outgoing Superintendent.
As it relates to becoming partners in selecting our next superintendent(s), we are requesting an immediate joint meeting with all Board Commissioners to discuss the process by which meaningful parent and community input and involvement will occur.
We believe that our next superintendent must be a local candidate, and must possess the following skills and attributes:
He or she must:
- be an experienced master teacher with extensive instructional knowledge and a keen understanding of instructional practice and research-based education reform practices and methodologies.
- possess demonstrated ability to build consensus with parents, educators, labor, and the broader Rochester community.
- be accessible with a demonstrated ability to work in partnership with diverse groups of urban parents. Meaningful, ongoing parent and community involvement and input must be a valuable part of a democratic partnership in decision-making within the district.
- demonstrate unquestionable integrity and be trustworthy; honesty is delivered through open and frequent communication with schools, parents, and the broader Rochester Community.
- represent the needs of all RCSD students and families, and subscribe to democrat principles, as opposed to corporate agendas and mayoral control ideologies.
Community Education Task Force
Coalition for Justice in Education
- Parents, guardians, educators and tax payers demand meaningful input into the process by which the next superintendent(s), i.e. both interim and permanent is / are chosen
- Parents and community members request immediate meeting with school board leadership to determine specific mechanisms for input
- School Board leadership, while legally responsible for filling interim and permanent superintendent positions, would do well to accept real community input given the seriousness of widespread dissatisfaction with the departing superintendent’s agenda
- Interim Superintendent must have the credibility, skill, and confidence to immediately intervene with a revised budget that reflects overwhelming demands from parents, students and taxpayers for adequate resources in our schools
- The school board’s persistent and uncritical support for the expensive and unproven projects of the exiting (lame-duck) superintendent poses a serious threat to their own institutional stability — recent and ongoing spectacles of weakness, incompetence, and lack of supervisory leadership with respect to Jean-Claude Brizard has created an unwelcome opening for mayoral control proponents to renew their calls for elimination of the institution, which is the strongest evidence regarding the clear fact that current Board members must be replaced by individuals who are committed to protecting the best interests of RCSD students, families, and the broader Rochester community, which includes continued existence of the Rochester Board of Education as a valuable, democratic institution.
- Supt. Brizard’s resignation presents the Rochester Community not only the opportunity to have significant participation in the Superintendent search and selection process, but also the opportunity to base their selection of the new Superintendent, on criteria that will help guarantee our students a just and meaningful education. The implementation of the standards & standardization education reform movement, and the intensification of it through corporate-designed strategies under Superintendent Brizard has produced little, if any, significant success for Rochester students.
- It has not increased overall student learning or closed the gap for poor and minority students,
- It has not prepared our students who earn diplomas for college, citizenship or the workplace,
- It has not significantly reduced the drop-out rate,
- It has not attracted nor retained more highly qualified teachers,
- It hasn’t improved the professionalism of teachers or administrators,
- Superintendent Brizard’s resignation and results gives Rochester the opportunity to find a superintendent who has the courage and sense of moral justice to advocate for and create educational reform plans that:
- Address the issues of concentrated poverty and racial segregation,
- Address the lack of a curriculum that prepares students to live effectively in the 21st Century, as responsible citizens, as college students or for a career,
- Address the obsession of our system with high-stakes standardized tests, which are neither valid nor reliable, and narrow our students’ curriculum, and
- Turn schools into places that celebrate the joy of learning.
- We need a superintendent who has the courage to address these issues with our city, the suburban leaders, our New York State Legislators and the power structure in Washington, and not blindly follow the corporate agendas of businessmen like Eli Broad & Bill Gates.
As Brizard exits the stage, we will continue the struggle for a more progressive, community-based agenda that values the input of educators, parents, and community. The divide between those who wish to continue Brizard’s “reform agenda” and those who wish for an alternative grassroots reform agenda has intensified (hint for the media: there are many more than “two clear paths” in terms of the nature and direction of reform that our schools undertake). As the media pundits and the community in Rochester and Chicago eye Brizard’s timeline in Rochester, we at the Community Education Task Force and allied community organizations will continue to build relationships with like-minded people and organizations in Chicago.