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Rochester, N.Y., Schools Supt. Named Chicago Schools Chief

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Jean-Claude Brizard

Jean-Claude Brizard is set to take over as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 04/18/11 5:22 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel has named Rochester, N.Y., schools superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard as his choice for the next Chicago Public Schools chief executive.

But Brizard is still under contract with the Rochester school board, having just signed a three-year contract in February, and the board voted late Monday not to let him out of his contract.

As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, that contract reportedly allows Brizard to leave his job in Rochester only if both sides agreed. Late Monday evening, the board met and voted not to let him out of the contract without a negotiation.

That could mean that Brizard will have to pay the board to get out of his contract.

In announcing his pick of CPS chief, Emanuel stressed that, while Brizard was his choice to run CPS, it was up to the new school board he also appointed Monday to actually hire Brizard and negotiate a contract.

That’s why a letter from Brizard to Rochester’s School Board President on Monday said only, “I will resign from my position as Superintendent by the end of this school year.”

Brizard was already in Chicago when that letter was delivered, sending the Rochester School Board into executive session to figure out whether or not to enforce terms of a new 3-year contract signed just two months ago.

“In my opinion, there is no greater calling than to the field of education. We have the power to change the lives and trajectories of young people,” Brizard said Monday. “I am honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to serve the students and families of this wonderful city. My family and I look forward to calling Chicago home.”

But he said urban education faces serious struggles right now, with schools under-performing, and many students finding themselves in danger on the way to and from school.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Mary Frances Bragiel Reports

Emanuel said Brizard would be ready for that challenge.

“He is not afraid of tough choices and that is what Chicago’s students need today,” Emanuel said.

Brizard’s choice to leave Rochester angered one former ally on the school board there.

“I’m disappointed that he would do that to us. I consider him a friend, but I am very disappointed in my friend,” Rochester School Board Member Adam McFadden said.

Brizard has had a rocky reign in Rochester, despite major improvements in students’ test scores. The Rochester teachers’ union recent vote of no confidence raised questions about his future relations with Chicago teachers, who he did mention in his prepared statement this morning.

“We know that by improving teacher preparation and effectiveness, giving principals the leverage and holding them accountable, and most of all, making our parents true partners, will greatly improve the educational lives of our children,” he said.

Brizard clashed with the teachers’ union in his term in Rochester.

In January, the Rochester Teachers Association gave Brizard a vote of no confidence, following complaints that he had focused on charter schools rather than paying attention to teachers’ input and struggling city schools, CBS affiliate WROC-TV reported.

The teachers were also working without a contract.

At the time, Brizard responded that he had received positive comments from many teachers, “most of whom are not as eager as their union to express their opinions publicly,” WROC reported.

Emanuel, who has sometimes been at odds with reporters over the way he tries to shape coverage, went so far as to refuse to allow Brizard to take questions on Monday.

“I’ll do the answering, and its okay, and at the right time we’ll have him available for questions,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel’s choice was applauded by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former head of CPS, but was questioned by Urban Education website Catalyst and was criticized by the Chicago Teachers Union.

“We’re disappointed, both by the choice of Brizard and by the entire tone that our newly elected … that the Mayor elect has adopted, in which there is an attempt to dictate,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey.

Union officials said they were upset that Emanuel did not consult with the union in any of his meetings to choose a new leader for CPS.

Brizard faced similar complaints from the teachers union in Rochester after moving to close several schools there.

“We moved as quickly as we could to engage staff and the leadership of the schools. We didn’t have time to go to the parents unfortunately,” Brizard said after those closings drew fire in January. “We know it’s important but we just never got there because we made those decisions as they came to us very late…we just didn’t have the time.”

Linda Lenz, publisher and founder of Catalyst Chicago, an online publication covering Chicago schools, said Brizard “has been criticized for appearing to be brash or for being too top down. And in promoting reforms, how you do it is almost as important as the what you do.”

For his part, Brizard stood side-by-side with the mayor-elect on Monday, looking like the odd couple, but in perfect ideological step.

“All educators, regardless of their level in the system, must always remain focused on the most important relationship in our work, that of the teacher and the student,” Brizard said. “We must put the students first.”

Some consider Brizard uniquely qualified to do that.

“He is one of the few superintendents that we have that have had actual teaching experience, so he knows what it takes to be effective on the front line,” said Phyllis Lockett, President and CEO of The Renaissance Schools Fund, a charter school group in Chicago.

Others, like CTU staff coordinator Jackson Potter, disagreed.

“If Mr. Brizard is gonna be successful in Chicago, he’ll have to recognize this is a partnership; that there are many voices and they all matter. Not just the people at the top; not the people that have no children in Chicago Public Schools, but make all the decisions; it’s the people on the ground. That is democracy, folks,” Potter said.

But if Emanuel was looking to shake things up – as he says, “hit the reset button on education in Chicago” – he seemed to pick just the person for the job.

Brizard will replace Terry Mazany, who was appointed as interim schools CEO by Mayor Richard M. Daley after CEO Ron Huberman resigned his post.

In announcing Brizard’s appointment, Mayor-elect Emanuel also announced a new all-star school board and Chicago Board of Education chairman.

Dr. Noemi Donoso, director of the office of school reform and innovation in Denver, takes over as chief education officer. Attorney Diana Ferguson, a holdover from the current regime, takes over as chief financial officer.

The new board members are – Penny Pritzker, President Barack Obama’s campaign finance director; David Vitale, former banker and chairman at the Academy for Urban School leadership; Jesse Ruiz, former chairman of the state Board of Education; Henry Bienen, former president of Northwestern University; Dr. Mahalia Hines, a veteran CPS school principal; Rod Sierra, former WGN-720 AM radio reporter and corporate media spokesman; and Andrea Zopp, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Urban League and a former federal prosecutor.

Vitale is Emanuel’s pick for Board of Education chairman.

“This is the right team to lead the Chicago Public Schools as the state prepares to offer Chicago the tools we need to succeed,” Emanuel said.

Last Thursday, Emanuel pointed out, the Illinois State Senate passed a comprehensive school reform bill that will allow CPS to lengthen the school day for students, and will allow teacher performance, and not just seniority, to be considered when wage raises, layoffs or dismissals are under consideration.

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