MEDIA WATCH: Chicago's corporate media reporters will stay in the tank for corporate 'school reform' Chicago-style... J.C. Brizard is escaping tough media coverage and massive protests against his corruptions and discriminations as he prepares to leave Rochester

The day before Chicago's mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel announced that he was selecting Rochester New York schools superintendent Jean Claude Brizard to be the next "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools, Brizard was facing the latest in a long series of protests from the people of Rochester against his autocratic — and many say prejudice — rule. On Sunday, April 17, hundreds of people protested against Brizard's budget... according to Rochester press reports.

The CTU and some of its community partners hosted a press conference on April 18, 2011 at 3:30 p.m. following the announcement that Rahm Emanuel will appointed Jean Claude Brizard, a proponent of charter schools, merit pay, and teacher bashing, as the next Chief Executive Officer for CPS. After the main part of the press conference, Chicago Teachers Union staff coordinator Jackson Potter tried repeatedly to tell Fox News reporter Mike Flannery (right) that studies (including the major study by Vanderbilt University) have shown conclusively that merit pay such as will be proposed by Rahm Emanuel and Jean Claude Brizard has proven to be a failure. The Fox News reporter, who worked for most of his career at CBS, simply repeated the question, by Substance's count more than a dozen time. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.One of the favors Rahm Emanuel is doing for Jean Claude Brizard is that he is bringing him into an easier media environment. For nearly two decades, Chicago's corporate media and its main education beat reporters and editorialists have been "in the tank" with the Daley administration's ever-evolving versions of mayoral control miracles and corporate school reform.

A quick review of the media coverage of Brizard's brief and mendacious career as superintendent of Rochester shows that as soon as Brizard's lies were checked out and public (and teacher) opposition grew, Brizard was faced with questions he couldn't answer from citizens and reporters he couldn’t easily bully (as appears to be his way). And during the coverage of Brizard's bizarre career, some people even began asking a theological question that Rahm Emanuel wasn't asked during the carefully staged Emanuel media event at Kelly High School on April 18 in Chicago. "Are you really going to tell people with a straight face during Easter Week to refer to this turkey as ‘JC’?”

A lot of humor will be missed in the next year or two, as the Bizarre Years begin in Chicago's circus of school reform following the drolleries of Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan, Ron Huberman, and the brief interruption for Terry Mazany.

But before looking at how real reporters cover a guy whose versions of his "narrative" should be relegated to Oprah’s fiction recommendations, not to the news pages with a straight face, let's review Chicago's corporate media news as propaganda for corporate "school reform" Chicago style.

Chicago Sun-Times education reporter Rosalind Rossi (above right) interviewed Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative about the group's opposition to mayoral control following the CTU's press conference on April 18, 2011. While Chicago education reporters have access to dozens of critics of the claims by Chicago school officials, their editors usually insist on quotes from only a handful of experts, all of whom support the Chicago mayoral control version of school governance.What is in store for "J.C" Brizard when he lurches into Chicago's media spotlight and has to answer his own questions rather than having them blocked out by the Emanuel media machine?

Puffery and piffle, most likely.

Chicago's media — from the education beat reporters to the editorialists who know the truth without having to consult the facts — will treat him with much more deference than he received either in New York City or in Rochester. And if the reporters don't simply play stenographer to his stuff, his famous tendency towards bullying might still get him over, as it did for Ron Huberman.

Because Chicago's corporate media did the original propaganda work for the Daley "miracle" of mayoral control and corporate school reform since 1995, the corporate media in Chicago, including virtually all of the reporters who cover or have covered the education beat since 1995, have simply recycled the press releases and joined in the cheerleading and marketing for the latest version of corporate school reform. In Chicago from 1995 through 2011, the propaganda and marketing claims of the various iterations of corporate "school reform" are published not in advertisements, but in the "news" columns of the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and the other Chicago print media (with the lone exception being The Reader when the story is done by Ben Joravsky).

A quick review of the past five or six years of Chicago education journalism will show this easily; a Google search of "Urban Prep" is a good place to begin.

Chicago Teachers Union vice president Jesse Sharkey (above left) gave the union's presentation during the April 18 press conference and then answered reporters' questions (above). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Sometimes the media pumping of corporate school reform's Chicago stock has a droll aspect, even bordering on the ridiculous. This often happens when the Chicago Tribune does another "news" story about the latest miracle that the Tribune attributes to corporate school reform. The marketing is not limited to the endless recycling of stories about how the "Urban Prep" charter school gets all of its "graduates" into college, but in some other ways as well.

Back in the Vallas days (1995 through June 2001), the Tribune reported Vallas's pronouncements as fact. By 2004 and 2005, when the "Renaissance" was the flavor of the month in corporate school reform, the Tribune dutifully recycled miracle stories about the wonders of "turnaround," especially when it was put into the hands of the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). Examples abound of nonsense getting Page One play as "news" at the hands of the corporation owned by billionaire real estate speculator Sam Zell, but one of our favorites came at the beginning of the first year of AUSL's "turnaround" nonsense at Harvard and Sherman elementary schools. The Tribune ran a page one story featuring a pajama party at the home of a supposedly dedicated AUSL teacher without noting that in most cases such a "party" would get a teacher fired.

The teacher, who was supposedly an example of the new breed of teacher that would save the kids of Englewood using the famous (but top secret) AUSL method, finished the year during which the Tribune followed her around. Then she quit, saying she was burned out, and upgraded her media skills to become an administrator in suburban Chicago.

Few examples of puffery as reporting will rival the Chicago magazine profile of Ron Huberman during the summer of 2009, before Huberman had done anything but issued a bunch of press claims and paraded around for an endless number of by-invitation-only media events. In "Numbers Guy," (August 2009), Chicago outdid even the Tribune in puffing the latest iteration of Chicago's corporate "school reform" in the person of Ron Huberman and his bizarre (but expensive and quite opaque) thing called "data driven management" and "performance management." Few people even got the joke, viz., that the entire "performance management" schtick that Huberman and Chicago were pumping in Chicago in 2009 had already been satirized in the HBO film "The Wire" six years earlier.

Truly, then, it can be said that Jane Claude Brizard is coming to the right town to continue his lies, evasions, half truths, pufferies, and bullyings. Chicago's corporate media reporters are already in the tank with corporate school reform, only waiting for the next script to repeat endlessly. This was on exhibit on April 18 at the headquarters of the Chicago Teachers Union, when the Fox News reporter Mike Flannery (who once knew how to cover education while a reporter at Channel 2) basically pummeled CTU officials with questions of and over (almost in imitation of Fox's Bill O'Reilly) about why "merit pay" was a bad idea. The only interesting thing about the Flannery-CTU exchanges wasn't Flannery's poor imitation of O'Reilly (and possibly Rush Limbaugh), but the fact that some people took his repetitions seriously, rather than viewing him as they would have a disrruitve know-it-all student from their days as classroom teachers.

Ignoring the fact that in many ways, Wall Street's version of "merit pay" (the annual bonuses to financial executives such as the CEOs of the (now defunct) Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and AIG destroyed the world economy and put millions of people into poverty. Clearly, the main reading for reporters who are about to cover Rahm Emanuel's version of school reform will be the one books we're confident every new member of the school board had read: Atlas Shrugged.

Brizard's qualifications appear to be his ability to discriminate against older teachers and administrators, and to alienate parents, teachers, principals, and students. From almost the time he took over Rochester's public schools, Brizard went out of his way to make enemies, according to many people in Rochester. By the summer of 2010, he was found by the federal Office of Equal Employment Opportunity to have discriminated against older teachers and administrators. According to a local newspaper report:

EEOC FINDS BIAS IN OUSTER OF ROCHESTER SCHOOLS OFFICIAL, July 7, 2010, Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY)

A federal commission has determined that the Rochester School District discriminated against its former highest-ranking instructional official when it forced her out of her job earlier this year.

Acting on a complaint filed in January by the official, Marilynn Patterson-Grant, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the district discharged her “because of her sex, her race and her age,” according to a letter issued by the commission last week.

The findings, which are nonbinding, are the basis for a federal discrimination lawsuit filed Tuesday by Patterson-Grant against the district and its superintendent, Jean-Claude Brizard.

Patterson-Grant, a 35-year veteran of the city school system, is of African-American descent and was 57 years old when she was ousted from her position as deputy superintendent by Brizard, who is a black Haitian immigrant. He has said he discharged her because of poor performance...

The EEOC complaint charged that Brizard told Patterson-Grant and other veteran district educators, “You are all old” and “in teaching, age matters,” and implied that Brizard saw veterans as a threat to his authority under a mayoral-controled system.

“You remember that one of the charges made against me was keeping too many of the old guard,” the complaint alleged Brizard said. “(The) people most affected (by mayoral control) will be central office people. The effort will be to get rid of a lot of R.I.P.’s. You know what R.I.P.’s are? Retired in place.”

Brizard has said he does not recall making such statements.

The lawsuit is seeking punitive damages, although Patterson-Grant’s attorney, Christina Agola, said there was no reason her client could not continue working.

“When you have such a high-ranking administrator making statements that are so plainly, on-their-face discriminatory, it has to be brought to task,” Agola said.

At the same time Brizard was facing age discrimination charges, he was also alienating the city's teachers to the point where they gave him a vote of "no confidence."

Brizard quickly found the usual supporters from among Chicago's corporate school reform types, typically in a April 18 Chicago Tribune article:


Reaction rolling in on new CPS CEO Brizard, Posted by Noreen Ahmed-Ullah at 1:55 p.m.

City education reform groups are praising Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel's selection today of Jean-Claude Brizard as the new Chicago Public Schools CEO while community groups are raising concerns.

Phyllis Lockett, who heads up the Renaissance Schools Fund, which raises money for charter schools in Chicago, gave Emanuel high marks for the team he put together.

“I think the mayor elect did a phenomenal job in welding a team with a good balance of business experience and education experience,” Lockett said. “That’s what you need to run a $6 billion system with the complexity of what strong education reform requires.”

But Julie Woestehoff, the executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, says she’s been getting “condolences” from community groups in Rochester, where Brizard spent a controversial three years.

The good news, Woestehoff said, is that Brizard brings an education background to the CPS CEO post, a change from outgoing Mayor Richard Daley's approach to filling that job.

“The downside is (Brizard) has a track record of top-down management, a track record of not listening to parents, but instead making fun of them. (The Rochester parents community) calls his leadership toxic and that’s not good news for Chicago.”

Woestehoff said what she’s heard from Rochester makes her feel Chicago is getting another Paul Vallas, who led CPS in the mid-1990s after Daley took control of the district following a law passed in Springfield. Woestehoff said she remembers Vallas coming in to his first board meeting and sitting down next to her, but once people complained about Vallas’ policies, they found themselves on the outside, she said.

“You can’t run a school system with that kind of attitude,” Woestehoff said.

Howard Eagle, who's part of a coalition of Rochester community groups called Parent and Community Coalition for Educational Change, clashed with Brizard on school closures and teacher pay for performance.

“We’re glad to see him go, but we wouldn’t wish him on anyone. We just hope he doesn’t (go there) and cause the same kind of upheaval he’s caused here," Eagle said.

Janet Knupp, CEO of the reform group the Chicago Public Education Fund, said Brizard has two things going for him as he starts here: Legislation working its way through the General Assembly to make major changes on teacher strikes and length of the school day, and the changing climate among teachers who Knupp says are “craving” a different type of profession.

Knupp, who founded that Chicago Public Education Fund, a venture philanthropy which has raised $50 million for CPS programs to improve city schools, said in recent focus groups she’s heard from teachers that they want to be evaluated, and that they want to figure out how to become better teachers.

“(Brizard) has a different tool kit to work from now. He needs to take advantage of the new legislation, and use it as leverage along with the willingness on the part of teachers to rethink the profession and rethink their commitment to grow and get results," she said.

Knupp said Rochester has faced some of the same issues as CPS, including a budget shortfall.

“The difficult choices that he’s making there, he’ll have to make it here,” Knupp said. “His challenges are exactly the same, but on a different scale.”

One group that didn't waste any time celebrating the appointment of Brizard was the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. Brizard was a graduate of a thing called the "Broad Superintendents Academy," which, as was recently reported in Substance, trains cadre for executive positions in public school districts (usually urban ones) undergoing corporate "school reform."

On April 18, 2011, the Broad Foundation was celebrating its latest coup — the appointment of Brizard to the Chicago position by Rahm Emanuel:

JEAN-CLAUDE BRIZARD, The Broad Superintendents Academy Class of 2007, CEO, Chicago Public Schools

“Averaging performance data to demonstrate gains has no place in education. Every child, regardless of race, ethnicity or class, must have the opportunity to achieve in great schools with extraordinary teachers and world-class content. There is no greater challenge facing our educational system today than the achievement gap, and nowhere is it more pronounced than in our urban school districts. We must make every effort to close this gap; we owe this to our children, and we must hold ourselves accountable for their success.”

On April 18, 2011, mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel named Rochester, N.Y., schools Supt. Jean-Claude Brizard as Chicago’s new schools chief. Brizard is expected to start work on May 16, the same day that Emanuel is sworn in as mayor. In November 2007, Brizard was appointed superintendent of the Rochester City School District in New York, a district with 34,000 students and 58 schools. Previously, Brizard served as senior executive for policy and sustainability for the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), the largest district in the country, serving more than 1 million students. Brizard also served the NYCDOE as regional superintendent in region 6, where he oversaw more than 100,000 students and 100 schools. Previously, he served the department as executive director for secondary schools and was responsible for a budget of million and a team of 60 people. Brizard has served in New York City’s public schools for over 21 years in various capacities including local instructional superintendent, principal and teacher. Brizard has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in science education from Queens College, and a master’s degree in school administration and supervision from The City College of New York. Brizard is a graduate of the 2007 class of The Broad Superintendents Academy.

What was going on in Rochester while Jean Claude Brizard was superintendent there? The longest news article published about Brizard's time in Rochester came out last August, when he was still working to get the school board there to renew his contract, which had first come in 2007. Within three days after the following articles was published, there had also been 18 lengthy comments.


Jean-Claude Brizard: the first three years, By Tim Louis Macaluso on August 18, 2010

It was billed as a new beginning. The January 2009 meeting between members of the Rochester school board, City Council, and Mayor Bob Duffy was supposed to mark a new era of collegiality between the city and the school district.

But the promise of cooperation quickly disappeared. Handmade signs protesting mayoral control, some directly attacking Duffy, lined the school board's third-floor conference room the night of the meeting. Duffy joked about the interesting artwork, but he was clearly not amused. Within minutes, the meeting degenerated into a verbal firestorm with some board members pressing the mayor to be forthright about his position on mayoral control.

As the charges and countercharges flew, city schools Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard, still new to the job, stood by expressionless and silent.

Some say the meeting was a turning point for Duffy — solidifying his views on mayoral control. But it had to also be an eye opener for Brizard, who was barely through his first year with the district.

Plainly, the people responsible for improving graduation rates and the lives of Rochester's children had one thing in common: each side blamed the other for the problems afflicting both the district and the city. They would cooperate on little.

Now, three years later, Brizard nears the end of his initial contract with the city school district. He's pushed for major reforms, but it is too soon to tell whether he has been successful; parents and students are still getting to know him. While he's embraced by the business community, many city school teachers are turned off by his reform rhetoric. Most school board members support Brizard, and the board seems poised to renew his contract. But even his allies on the board are reserved in their praise.

Board President Malik Evans says he expects to have Brizard's contract finalized before the end of this month, but things haven't gone well. A draft of the contract was leaked to the media.

"I was angry," Brizard says. "I think it was done to discredit me."

How can you negotiate in good faith, he asks, when something like this happens?

"My attorney, who has been doing this for 30 years, said he's never seen anything like it before," Brizard says. "He was livid."

The contract leak is no surprise. Though Brizard stops short of accusing anyone, he says it's not the first time that sensitive information has found its way into the media's hands.

Brizard has had a rocky go of it from the beginning. Board member Cynthia Elliott was quite public about her desire to see interim Superintendent Bill Cala stay on permanently. Cala, the well-known and respected former superintendent of Fairport schools, was brought in to hold the city organization together in the aftermath of Superintendent Manny Rivera's abrupt departure.

"I told Cynthia she had to throw her full support behind Jean-Claude," Cala says. "She didn't want to, but I said to her, ‘You want this guy to succeed, don't you?'"

Success for any superintendent, Cala says, requires the full support of every board member, "otherwise, it won't work."

Brizard prevailed in getting the job because he stood out. He holds two master's degrees. He was a regional superintendent in the New York City school system under Chancellor Joel Klein, where he supervised more than 100 K-12 schools.

He's also a graduate of the prestigious Superintendent's Academy of the Broad Center. With his Haitian accent and quick wit, he seemed to embody a superintendent for a new stage in Rochester, one that's more fitting of a global 21st century institution. When he said, in a series of public meetings, that he would raise the city's graduation rate from an abysmal 39 percent to 75 percent by 2012, he closed the deal.

Nearly three years later, Brizard insists his goal is still attainable, though it may take him a year or two longer to reach it. But it illustrates the difficult task of evaluating school superintendents. The benchmarks of success for superintendents are often elusive, and they have a tendency to morph over time. Since board members are elected officials, the body and its priorities can change with each election.

"You know the old saying in this business - the board that hires you isn't the one that fires you," Brizard says.

The changing mandates and committee of bosses help to explain, some experts say, why the turnover of superintendents is so high, particularly in large urban districts like Rochester's. The need for quick and immediate improvement in student achievement has reached such a dramatic level, it borders on the impossible. Superintendents are cycled in and out in roughly three- to five-year intervals, Cala says, with little change in student performance.

But Brizard says he's already made a vital contribution. He says he's challenged the Rochester school district's decades-old and deeply-engrained culture that assumes the fate of most city school students is pre-determined. It's been a culture tied to the belief, he says, that students are so influenced by the conditions of Rochester's pockets of extreme poverty - the city has one of the worst child poverty rates in the country - that they are limited in their capacity to learn.

The poverty-equals-failure theory is one that Brizard rejects and is determined to shatter.

"We have an internal survey conducted by CGR (Center for Governmental Research) that confirmed more than half of our teachers believed this stuff," Brizard says. "I know many people in the city measure success by graduation rates, but before we can get there, we have to change what people believe is possible. I'm not saying that we're there yet. But the culture here is changing."

No one can accuse Brizard of being timid about taking on big initiatives. The culture shift he speaks of is a trail of sharp turns away from the district's old way of doing things. Probably nothing illustrates that as well as Brizard's controversial in-house suspension program.

There were more than 11,000 out-of-school suspensions during the 2006-2007 school year, according to district data. Considering the district's student population is about 32,500, it meant that thousands of students were out of school on any given day. The suspensions were usually the result of behavior problems. But with so much classroom instruction missed, Brizard says, why would anyone expect the students to graduate on time?

"Our kids were throwaways," he says. "It's much easier to put kids out on the street than it is to deal with them."

The in-house suspension program requires students to stay in school and to receive daily instruction in a room away from their friends and classmates. While suspensions are way down in most schools, Brizard says, the program's implementation was shaky. The program is not perfect, he says, but it was a necessary shock to the system.

Teachers, students, and parents complained bitterly at a public meeting about the program. The room filled to capacity, leaving many parents standing outside the school district's Central Office.

The new suspension program also concerned board members.

"He got lots of criticism for that," board member Van White says. "The guy moves very quickly, sometimes too quickly. And he doesn't always bring his people along with him. He's like that gifted quarterback that sometimes forgets that it takes a team."

Brizard could improve his relationships with those he manages, White says.

"I'm not sure he's really in touch with teachers, principals, and the non-teaching employees or their feelings about their jobs," he says.

White may have a point. The district's relationship with labor appears to be at a low point.

"The fact is his labor relations skills are awful," says board member Willa Powell. "It's not enough to have a vision. All of our superintendents have had incredible vision. But implementation counts. And I would say he hasn't been any more or less successful than the others."

The biggest concern for BENTE members, says Dan DiClemente, president of the union that represents the district's non-teaching staff, is a sense of not being valued.

"Our members are with the kids every day," he says. "But this superintendent waves off our concerns as being a lot of noise from a staff that's resisting change. It's very hurtful to people who don't make a lot of money but are dedicated to their jobs."

"Bumpy" is the way John Pavone, 1st vice president of the Rochester Teachers Association, describes Brizard's first years in office.

"All we hear about the low graduation rate and low test scores is that it is the teachers's fault and only the teachers's fault," Pavone says. "When you constantly hear that you're to blame for all of the district's problems, no wonder teachers don't feel like partners."

One veteran teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, says he had high hopes for Brizard, but his feelings have changed.

"Teachers don't feel supported," he says. "There are a lot of promises made at the Central Office level, but not a lot of follow-through."

If he had to rate Brizard's performance on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the best, he says he would give the superintendent a 2.5.

Another veteran teacher says that "Brizard doesn't lead; he pushes." You can't expect people to do their best work when they're afraid of losing their jobs, he says.

"No one has been more aggressive and in your face than Mr. Brizard," he says. "He doesn't consult with teachers; he directs."

At the same time, the teacher concedes, some of Brizard's programs, including the in-house suspension program, appear to be working.

"I've seen a change in student behavior," he says.

Brizard's opinion of unions has always been a question because of his connection to the Broad Foundation. Eli Broad, the organization's founder, had no use for unions or school boards. But Brizard insists he isn't anti-union. He does, however, believe the district was long overdue for a conversation about teacher effectiveness.

"Ineffective teachers have learned they can outlast superintendents," he says. "They wait you out because they know that the process of ousting ineffective teachers takes so long."

The drama involved in getting rid of ineffective teachers discourages principals from doing it, Brizard says.

"Then the teacher gets tenure," he says. "And once that happens it takes three years, sometimes longer to get rid of them."

Pavone doesn't agree. He says Brizard wants to neutralize the unions.

"Let his record speak for itself," Pavone says. "He's gone to Albany and talked about the elimination of tenure. He wants to be able to hire and fire without due process. Tenure is not a guarantee of a job for life like some of these guys like to suggest; it's a guarantee of due process."

Despite the criticisms, Brizard says he wishes he had pushed even harder to reduce the district's bloated work force and to close some of the district's most poorly performing schools.

Settling on the coming school year's budget required controversial staffing cuts, including teachers, for the second year in a row. Critics charge that Brizard has not done enough to reduce the bloat in the Superintendent's Employee Group, the district's highest paid management and support staff in Central Office.

And the cuts to the teaching staff drew particularly pointed criticism because they included arts and music teachers.

"Why is it that our students in the city schools have to make these kinds of sacrifices?" says a parent and district employee with two children in city schools. "It's so disheartening. I like the superintendent. I think he's trying. But city students need the arts just as much as suburban students, maybe more."

And opening new schools and closing poorly-performing ones was a concern for some board members who remembered the problems implementing the in-house suspension program. They didn't immediately give Brizard permission to close the schools and pressed him to move cautiously.

"When he wanted to close Franklin's schools, he again started with his vision," White says. "But frankly, in my mind, what he planned to do was a bit sketchy at first."

Brizard recognizes that his time at the district has been tough on faculty and staff, but he's unapologetic. He says a tipping point is within sight and the changes he wants will be worth the bumps getting there.

"I believe in creative tension, not in anxiety," he says. "We have a crisis in education today; not just in Rochester, but in schools across the country."

Talking fervently about education reform has endeared Brizard to Rochester's business community and to City Hall.

Brizard is the best person for the job and Rochester is lucky to have him, says City Council member Elaine Spaull.

Mayor Duffy described a meeting between Brizard and City Council shortly after Brizard was hired.

"He came in and talked about his plans and what he wanted to," Duffy says. "When he finished, everyone spontaneously rose to their feet and gave him a huge round of applause."

Brizard is doing exactly what needs to be done, Duffy says.

"This is a system that hasn't been kind to our children for decades," Duffy says. "Don't get me wrong, Manny Rivera was very bright, and I actually encouraged Bill Cala to apply for the permanent job. Both are good people. But Jean-Claude is the first superintendent who is trying to transform the district. That will put him at odds with people in the system. But I think he's weathered the criticisms well."

The pairing of Brizard and Duffy, the city's two most powerful public servants, made the possibility of mayoral control of the city school district intriguing. Both men have strong, determined personalities and their admiration for each other is evident.

In those cities where mayoral control appears to have some success, it is often attributed to the combination of a progressive mayor and a reform-minded superintendent. The combination of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein in New York City is the one most often cited.

The mayoral control debate has shown Brizard's political skills. He has deftly moved around the issue without committing to one side or the other.

Though the Broad Foundation connection leaves some to assume that Brizard favors mayoral control, Brizard's quick to point out that the large urban school district with the highest graduation rate, Atlanta, Georgia, is governed by a school board.

"But that is a board that really works together," Brizard says. Rochester has some incredibly strong and effective board members, Powell says, but there are also members who are openly hostile.

"But that's the way it is," she says.

It's almost certain that the school board will renew Brizard's contract. Even board member Allen Williams, though he has several issues with Brizard's work to date, says he wants Brizard to stay.

"He would be a fool to leave without finishing some of the reforms he started," Powell says.

Brizard, who drops that he is frequently called by headhunters, says he's not worried about his contract; he wants to stay on the job.

"I don't really think they're going to find anyone better," he says.

The article received many comments, some of which are reported here.

Comments for "Jean-Claude Brizard: the first three years" (18)

Art Vandelay said on Aug. 18, 2010 at 2:20pm

"I don't really think they're going to find anyone better," he says."

Wow, this is just what we need, a pompous ass running our school districts. Maybe Mr. Brizard just has a dim view of the recruiting capabilities of the RCSD Board, I don't really know.

He certainly sounds like he's in it for the children, doesn't he? I think he, along with his swollen, over-stroked ego, needs to be brought back (way back) down to Earth. He is not God's gift to the RCSD, not by a long shot.

That ending quote just sticks in my craw for some reason - as I am sure it does for many of the readers and residents of the City of Rochester. I think the RCSD is really in trouble here, and I don't seen any reasonably decent solution to right the ship, not with Mr. Brizard at the helm. Snake oil anyone?

Nancy said on Aug. 18, 2010 at 8:35pm

I have to commend the current superintendent for creating some very promising middle/high schools in the upcoming '10-'11 school year. I think he wants to see city school kids excel in academics. I also believe that the poverty excuse most educators have adopted has hurt and hindered our students. We are in a society that makes excuses for everything---- from the politicians who try to band aid a lie and say that they must have "misspoken" to underage teens who want to play grown-up before building a foundation to stand on.

With that being said, Bizzards pompous, self rightous and bullying attitude is tragically turning into a deplorable delusion that will leave our children further behind. He is painfully out of touch with education. These graduates of the "prestigious Superintendent's Academy" are churning out sub-par educators who use "poor performing teachers" excuse on the first day on the job.! How can you respect a leader who is either too lazy or inadequite to FIND the real problem in order to attempt to FIX it? Here are some issues I have with this entire all- of - the-sudden-we -politicians-care-about- students-because- we-don't - have-the-money-to fund-education BS, FUBARED mess.

1. Why did the rcsd get rid of reading teachers 5 ys ago, when the avg city student reads at LEAST 2-3 grade levels behind their own grade? How can a student pass an exam when they cant read it???!!! its like taking a test in German (when its not your native tongue) and expect to get a "3" on it...

2. Alternative or character schools are becoming popular - as it should. Teachers work from 8-5:30. and works 2 saturday's a month- the charter schools also pick the kids they want. Its like elementary all over again the fat kid gets picked last in dodge ball. (BTW) giving teachers more responsibility and hours pushes them into a faux parental role. TEACHERS CANNOT BE PARENTS. Only parents can parent.--- another 2010 catch word- "accountibility"

2. NYS teachers have the most rigorious teacher certification process in the country. As a NYS teacher you must hold a masters degree- pass more than a couple state exams+ teachers must be deemed as highly qualified in order to keep jobs- So are they highly qualified or slackers- Mr. Bizzard? How insulting to an educator. If I were a teacher I would be "highly heated"

3. The inschool suspension system. A farce of MASS porportions. My husband works in a high school whose name shall remain nameless. Wait he has nothing to fear- the faithfull Teachers union has his back -- more about that later. says that the ISS rooms are ran like zoos--- no teaching goes on, most kids are special ed and loose so much valueble education Bizzard speaks so much about. Kids are cursing, running around -- with no authority figure in sight. A waste. Bizzard has the gall to take credit for the low suspension rate because --- HE ABOLISHED SUSPENSION. Please someone tell this man that not all of residence of Rochester are dumb as rocks. Even lay people know this.

Finally-I have to admit that i was so pleased to see Bizzard on the cover of this well written, relevant paper. True journalist haven't been extinct after all..... or maybe not. For the life of me why won't the good folks at City ask this man or call him out on this "the union won't let us fire teachers crap" The union wants to get rid of terrible teachers! (i have friends as insiders) because yes thier are bad teachers. BUT THEY CAN BE FIRED. The UNION has put together a program called PART to address this problem. PART doesn't get used because administrators are too lazy to complete the paper work for it. Principals have the power to use thier building however they like. If your a principal and want 30 gym teachers and 2 math can have it your way. Who cares?? their is no one from central office that will stop you. Why isn't this looked at?? Why cant a reporter visit a school? because the reporter would find a massive FUBAR situation going on. Thats why.

A Real Teacher said on Aug. 18, 2010 at 9:27pm

Having read the article, I can only reflect on the ideas presented by M. Brizard's critics. Unfortunately, we in Rochester learn slowly - years ago we had to buy out the contract of Laval Wilson, and more recently, suffered through the misadministration of Clifford Janey. M. Brizard may mean well, but he seems to be another administrator here to establish a reputation and then move on — albeit after a second round of high salary and no real gains in the District graduation rate or the education of the children of the City.

He talks a good game, but as stated in the article, he is so far removed from the daily tasks of the actual education of the children by the actual dedicated teachers (and they do exist) of the RCSD that he has no real understanding of the actual problems in the schools themselves. Theory is great on paper, but the implementation of actual meaningful programs is a whole different thing. And by the way, moving staff from 131 West Broad to 690 St Paul (which has been leased for a ridiculous amount of money) is not actually cutting administrative staff — it is more, as the old phrase goes, like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Perhaps if M. Brizard actually had true teaching experience and also was not the product of a psuedo-degree program with its own agenda, he would have a better vision of what could and needs to be done in the District and the City. One could only hope.

Art Vandelay said on Aug. 18, 2010 at 10:19pm

Just wondering where Mr. Petronio is for damage control?

Jim Emmi said on Aug. 19, 2010 at 11:20am

What is wrong with a person believing they are the best person for the job they were hired to do???

Tom Petronio said on Aug. 19, 2010 at 11:27am

Tim Macaluso is a talented reporter whose work I respect. However, there was more to that closing comment and the failure to include the rest of it leads to a misleading lack of context.

I was present during Tim's interview. The point the Superintendent was making is that the work being done in the Rochester City School District is based on some of the most effective practices in the country, e.g., devolving budget authority to schools to better meet students needs, opening new schools with proven partnerships to offer parents greater choice, developing the leadership capacity of principals to improve student achievement, etc. Any leader in urban education would bring similar practices to Rochester.

We have laid the groundwork for positive change in this district and Mr. Brizard is looking forward to being the superintendent who sees it through. If there is someone who can do a better job for our students as superintendent, we should hire that person.

- Tom Petronio, Chief Communications Officer, RCSD

Linda Lopata said on Aug. 19, 2010 at 11:30am

"I know many people in the city measure success by graduation rates, but before we can get there, we have to change what people believe is possible." Jean Claude Brizard.

As a former RCSD teacher I believe that most teachers begin their careers as urban educators believing that it is possible for every child to achieve regardless of their home situation. Then reality sets in.

Most students do learn and grow each year under the guidance of mostly dedicated teachers, despite many challenges that a significant number of students face, which may include one or more of the following: homelessness, lead poisoning, physical and sexual abuse, exposure to drug and gang violence, AIDS, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, poor diet, parental abandonment, lack of verbal and social stimulation and perhaps most significantly a belief and acceptance that this is the way life is. What Mr. Brizard appears to fail to grasp is that many of these children are third generation recipients of a culture that began when well-paying manufacturing jobs and many community services dried up in the 1980's. Add in the availability of cheap drugs and you have the roots of violence and hopelessness. These are not the children of first generation immigrants who see education as a vehicle for advancement and who actively support their children's academic endeavors and not coincidentally their teachers. Indeed a dirty little secret that no one wants to say aloud is that some parents, for a variety of reasons, are threatened by the idea of their kids doing better than them and have no qualms about their children dropping out of school. When kids are raised in households in which not one family member has graduated from high school let alone entertained the thought of higher education inevitably for them to achieve in school they must give up some pretty important relationships with friends and family. They need to reject way of life that is familiar and comfortable no matter how dysfunctional others may see it. Mr. Brizard need only read the book "The Pact" which was assigned to all RCSD Freshman last year for an example of how hard this is to do.

Hard but not impossible. Let's start with realistic expectations of students and teachers. When a 5 year old enters kindergarten with a vocabulary of an 18 month- old give them more time to learn. Extend school days and years and keep subjects of interest to young people like art and music. School of the Arts has the highest graduation rate in the city because kids want to go there! Keep trying to get rid of ineffective teachers AND principals but at the same time support the people who actually work with students. (Anyone who is friends with or are related to a city school district teacher knows how much of their heart and soul they put into their job.) Have realistic expectations. Why does everyone have to graduate on the same time frame? Provide more internships, jobs, vocational training, early intervention for families and preschool experiences. Middle class people stop moving to the suburbs or open your schools to urban kids. It takes more than just teachers to model middle class values and expectations. Most importantly, let's stop assigning blame to one group, or reaching for simple solutions and work together to help this next generation.

Art Vandelay said on Aug. 19, 2010 at 3:07pm

"What is wrong with a person believing they are the best person for the job they were hired to do???"

Absolutely nothing. Heck, I feel, actually, I'd like to believe that I'm the best person for the job that I was hired to do. But I certainly don't go spouting and touting that idea and feeling to my co-workers, my peers or my boss.

As it has been said, "the proof is in the pudding". I can try to prove it through my performance at work, my progression through the ranks and how my peers & bosses view and respect me. I perform well, achieve my goals and earn the respect from the people around me. It didn't happen overnight, and can only happen over many, many years. Mr. Brizard, I believe, still needs to prove to us that the RCSD isn't going to find anyone better. I sure hope Mr. Brizard proves himself right.

There is a difference between believing that idea and vocalizing it to thousands of listeners. The difference, IMO, is light years apart.

Thanks for clarifying Mr. Petronio. I believe ending the article with that last quote just leaves a very bitter taste in the reader's mouths, and it doesn't really conclude this well written article on a very high note.

Dave Reilly said on Aug. 19, 2010 at 5:31pm

Engage sarcasm button: Well, thank you so much Sir Jean Claude for riding into town on your valiant steed to save the children of Rochester from their own teachers who don't think they can learn!

Are you kidding me? And I don't know anyone who participated in that Center for Governmental Research survey, so either they took a VERY small sample or "someone" is making that 50% figure up. Bravo to Linda Lopata who explained the way things really are in a City classroom. But Brizzard would not really be aware of that since he is in his ivory tower on West Broad St. examining data and statistics and test scores. There are real kids in those classrooms and they have all the problems that Ms. Lopata mentioned and more. How ironic that the article on Supt. Brizzard appeared in the same issue with Jeff Lynn's essay on test scores. I would recommend that the Supt. read that and take it to heart. By the way, I know where we can find someone better, and it's the man who convinced Cynthia Elliott to support Brizzard. Or, how about Jeff Linn? He's a City resident and at least understands where the real problems and solutions are.

saralee said on Aug. 19, 2010 at 10:02pm

...." the in-house suspension program, appear to be working." this is where I will begin. By whose standards are they working? Is this success measured by the continued funding the district recieves from the state or actual student test scores? Hum, I wonder. I wonder where the effective behavioral support staff are in these classrooms, I have yet to see them. I have seen angered teachers placed in these rooms without being asked the choice. I have seen social workers mandated to participate, but with no direction or time to actively make a sustainable changes in students' lives. Please, enlighten me as to how success is being measured. What I see is a bottleneck system.....similar to the trend I see the county moving with programs such as FACT. Please, show me the data tht indicates success.

EvidenceGuy said on Aug. 20, 2010 at 12:45pm

Why do we have to debate things like this on the basis of he said/she said quotes from various biased parties? If Brizard's main claim to fame is In-School-Suspension, then why can't we find out if it is working in some objective way? (As mentioned above, counting (out-of-school) suspensions doesn't work anymore.) Could City please send someone to find out if some measure of disciplinary problems has gone down as a result of ISS? If ISS works, then great, let people know. If it doesn't, then great, let people know and stop it. Either way, Brizard would be a good leader but now we don't know one way or another. It's crazy as Bill Cala pointed out to keep having these 3-5 year merry-go-rounds of naked emperor superintendents saying they're doing something, but apparently nobody can tell if they are or not and then they leave and the graduation rates are still terrible. Maybe this superintendent is different. I'd like to believe so. Please give me something to base that on.

nancy said on Aug. 20, 2010 at 2:57pm

Tim P. please don't insult readers by trying to cover up truth. If the people in central office did more focusing on education and finding the CORRECT programs that are better suited for OUR kids than on cover up for a sub par "leader" (Bizard) we wouldn't have to have this discussion. Bizard let his arrogance shine through--- something that has been very well aparent to all since day one. His quotes in this article lets everyone know who we are dealing with. You can NEVER take back words sir. Is he worth a new car and a hefty raise-- HELL NO. --- but the robotic school board will get him what he wants rather than admit to appointing a mediocre superintendent (except the wildly misunderstood C. Elliot). This man got rid of an outstanding educator because he was intimidated by her- not because of age. What did the school board do about that?? Did they do their own investigation?? Do we think its a good idea to let an undeserving bully lead our children in these economic times? Can we afford this??? PLEASE stop with the insulting lies Tim/Tom or whatever ITS NOT WORKING!

drew said on Aug. 21, 2010 at 4:33pm

Any plan or person who's this unpopular with teacher's unions is likely 1) good for the students and 2) is doing something right.

And even if the in school suspention rooms are complete zoos, at least those kids aren't tearing the radio out of my car. Bravo, Mr Brizard & bon chance!

Salazar said on Aug. 21, 2010 at 9:05pm

Anyone who believes that Brizard's unpopularity with the teacher's union is evidence of his effectiveness is misguided. No, his unpopularity stems from the fact that he is arrogant , dismissive towards his employees, and has done nothing to inspire confidence. His tenure has been a disaster and people who believe otherwise are misinformed or in his cabinet.

I wish the media would send some people into the schools to see how ineffective his in school suspension policy is. Brizard has made it harder for the students who want to learn, because they have to be surrounded by the ones who only come to school to cause problems. Most of the students sent to the in school suspension rooms are sent right back to class the next day. And the behavior problems just continue. No learning is occurring in the ISS rooms and the students view it as a joke. But the nonsense continues so he can say he has cut down the number of suspensions.

Brizard is no visionary, like he believes he is. He has one play — blame teachers. The vast majority of the teachers work very, very hard. They are working in challenging environments, with students who are dealing with a myriad of problems . Brizard's contempt for his teachers, the folks on the front line, is disgusting and why he has such little support from them.

The fact that he thinks Rochester probably can't find anyone better is laughable. The reality is that we probably could not find anyone worse. The district needs major improvement, but alienating the work force is not the way to do it. Improvement will come only when the people of this area realize that the de facto segregation that exists is too great to be overcome and some sort of county or regional school district is created. If that ever happens we will see the dramatic improvements so many claim to want. Beyond that, a step in the right direction would be for Brizard to take his caustic, divisive act elsewhere.

saralee said on Aug. 21, 2010 at 9:17pm

Dear Drew,

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but THOSE are the kids that are tearing the radio out of your car. They are also the kids that walk out of school, plan beatings, are invovled in gang activities either as want-to be's, or full membership, start brawls at public events and make other inappropriate choices as their days and lives without proper educational and behavioral alternatives continues 180 days out of the year. I agree, with Brizard's attempt, however the execution of meaningful educationa nd reform is NOT taking place in school suspension rooms. In fact, NO EDUCATION is taking place in those rooms. Visit them for yourself Drew. Don't be fooled by the statistics or media hearsay. Data in the years ahead will tell us. In the meantime, schedule a visit or better yet, volunteer.

Observant said on Aug. 22, 2010 at 7:27pm

Mr. Brizard specifically mentioned the "frequent" calls he gets from other districts wishing to hire him and his selfless act of turning them down. He neglected to mention that only a short time after taking this position, Arne Duncan (current Secretary of Education) left a vacancy as head of Chicago Public Schools. Who do you think "selflessly" and immediately submitted a resume for that position? Sadly, they didn't care to hire him.

Keilah said on Aug. 22, 2010 at 8:35pm

As a 2009 graduate of East High School, I can not say enough that RCSD needs serious reform. Brizard has not proofed to me that he is the man for the job. While I do believe that he wants to see students do better, I am not convinced he has students’ best interest at heart. I have not seen any improvements in RCSD at all.

nutherInsidr said on Aug. 24, 2010 at 12:40pm

Mr. Brizard did 2 key things when he arrived: 1) Lower requirements for graduation to state bare minimum levels. 2) Reduce suspensions by directing principals not to suspend.

He was immediately lauded by the mayor and press for raising graduation rates and reducing suspensions. This is tantamount to suggesting police would be better if we didn't require so much training. And crime stats would improve if police stopped arresting.

No one can learn in an out of control school. The unavoidable effect will of course be even lower graduation rates because we can't lower the standard any further. In school suspension is just a way to pad stats. Kids in that room have nothing to lose if they leave the room, terrorizing the school or students, or are exhibit egregious misconduct while there. It doesn't help them and it HURTS the 90% of the students who never go there.

The only thing way to get graduation rates up is to STOP focusing so much time, energy and resources on the roughly 10% of students who positively will not follow rules - even state or federal laws! Focus all effort on the 90% who come to learn. support the ones who come to learn and REMOVE THE OTHERS. This ...." but what about those poor struggling students that" ...... nonsense has only led up to where we are now - a new definition for the word: struggling: (euphemism for not struggling at all)


April 21, 2011 at 11:22 AM

By: Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now


You know, I believe Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now reported on something similar to the Pritzker scheme going on in the New York area (?). It seems folks like the Pritzkers get tax breaks and incentives to buy up property then sell it to school districts to open new schools (Duh, of course they do). I am not sure how it works, and perhaps for some this is old news, but it may be something that is worth repeating considering what's going on right now.

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